DETROIT — The Lions were one of the worst teams in the NFL at forcing turnovers last year. That hasn’t been a problem so far this preseason, but taking advantage of them has.
Louis Delmas recovered a fumble in his first series of the preseason and the Lions forced three more first-half turnovers – all in New England territory – but the first-team offense managed just one touchdown in a 40-9 victory on Thursday night.
Delmas, who sat out the Lions’ first two preseason games and has practiced sparingly this summer because of lingering pain in his surgically-repaired left knee, played the first two series, about 13 snaps, and gave a noticeable lift to a defense that struggled in last week’s loss to the Cleveland Browns.
He tackled Patriots running back Steven Ridley for a 1-yard loss on the second play of the game, and when he left the Lions got good play from their relentless but penalty-prone defensive front.
Jason Jones had two sacks and recovered a fumble, Ndamukong Suh had four tackles and a handful of pressures, and rookie Ziggy Ansah recovered a fumble before briefly leaving with a knee injury. When he returned, Ansah stopped James Develin for no gain on fourth-and-1.
The Lions, who haven’t committed a turnover this preseason, are now plus-6 in turnover margin after finishing last year minus-16, third worst in the league.
But while they appear to have rectified some of the defensive problems that ailed them last year, they have shown significant cracks offensively and discipline-wise this preseason.
Playing without Calvin Johnson for the second straight game because of a knee injury, Matthew Stafford completed just 12 of 25 passes in one half of work. His receivers – Nate Burleson, Patrick Edwards and Matt Willis, primarily – got little separation, he overthrew a handful of passes, and a good chunk of his 166 yards passing came on a 67-yard screen to Reggie Bush.
In 16 series this preseason, the equivalent of about five quarters of play, the first-team offense has just one touchdown and five field goals.
“We need to be able to convert more,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said in halftime quotes distributed by the team. “Defense has done a good job getting turnovers, but we still can play a lot better than that.”
The Lions led 16-3 at halftime thanks to three David Akers field goals – he missed a fourth – and a 9-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to tight end Tony Scheffler that was set up by a play-action fake to Bush.
The Lions drove 90 yards on their first series after Delmas recovered a Patriots fumble deep in Detroit territory; a Nick Fairley personal foul forced them to start the possession at their own 5-yard line.
Bush had the big play of the drive, turning a short screen pass into a 67-yard gain on third-and-10 from the Lions’ 20.
Bush finished with six carries for 1 yard, had 103 yards receiving on five catches, and his presence left Scheffler wide open at the goal line for a diving catch to give the Lions a 10-0 lead two minutes into the second quarter.
Bill Bentley forced a Shane Vereen fumble on the next series, Chris Houston intercepted Tom Brady, and Willie Young, C.J. Mosley and Rocky McIntosh joined Fairley in the personal-foul column for the Lions.
In the second half, Kellen Moore starred in his bid to win the third quarterback job, completing 9 of 12 passes for 150 yards. He threw touchdowns to Joseph Fauria (22 yards) and Micheal Spurlock (15), and Joique Bell had 52 yards rushing on five carries and another 49 receiving.
The Lions started their first three picks in April’s draft for the first time this preseason – Ansah at right defensive end, Darius Slay at cornerback and Larry Warford at right guard – and got a good night from punter Sam Martin, their fifth-round pick.
Undrafted rookie LaAdrian Waddle also got a long look at right tackle with the first team, and veterans Rashean Mathis (nickel cornerback) and Justin Bannan (defensive tackle) played significant snaps after signing earlier this week.
Brady finished 16 of 24 passing for 185 yards for the Patriots. He was 18 of 20 entering this preseason the game.
Ryan Mallett played the entire second half at quarterback for the Patriots, despite sporadic chants of “Te-bow, Te-bow,” from a sparse but sold-out Ford Field crowd that wanted to see third-string quarterback Tim Tebow play.
The Patriots didn’t score until the final minutes when backup Mallett connected on a nine-yard touchdown pass to James Develin. Mallett’s two-point conversion pass to Quentin Sims failed.
Mallett finished with 11 of 22 completions for 96 yards.
Panthers 34, Ravens 27
Carolina scored three defensive touchdowns en route to a win at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Drayton Florence picked off a Joe Flacco pass in the second quarter and took it back 71 yards for a score.
Two plays later, Luke Kuechly forced a fumble from Raves running back Bernard Pierce. Thomas Davis picked up the loose ball and ran 2 yards for a touchdown that put the Panthers on top 21-7.
In the third quarter, D.J. Moore intercepted a pass thrown by Tyrod Taylor and raced for a 33-yard touchdown.
Flacco finished 18-for-24 for 169 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Running back Ray Rice had 16 carries for 62 yards, both game highs, and he scored a 1-yard touchdown that gave Baltimore (2-1) the game’s first points.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton went 10-for-19 for 99 yards, and he added 20 yards on two carries. Running back Tauren Poole gained 36 yards on 15 carries for Carolina (2-1).
Dolphins’ Starks is ready to play
In NFL math, Randy Starks represents, if not a given, at least a known to the Dolphins: veteran, steady, hasn’t missed a regular-season game since the iPhone could be called “newfangled.”
They know he will play Saturday against Tampa Bay in the dress-rehearsal exhibition game.
First-round pick Dion Jordan represents X, the unknown. Nobody knows when Jordan, a defensive end, will be back from the reinjured shoulder, only that he won’t be healed in time for this week’s preseason game. Asked if he would be surprised if he missed the opener, Jordan said, “It’s my body, so I know when I’m ready to go or not ready to go. It wouldn’t be a surprise.”
Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said Wednesday he thinks Jordan will be ready for the opener, but …
“There’s always going to be a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C as you approach the season,” Coyle said. “We have a plan in place to utilize Dion, provided that he’s up and ready to go. I think he’s making strides with his rehab and working with our trainers and strength coaches. So we are ready to implement that plan if, in fact, we get the green light.
“If not, we are proceeding as if we wouldn’t have him in another plan. That’s just part of football where a guy goes down, you’ve got to have a plan. One person doesn’t necessarily completely alter your game plan, so there are other people who can play the role we originally had planned for Dion as well on the current roster.”
Jordan didn’t play last week after being a third-down specialist the first two exhibition games. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if he saw some time at linebacker at some point this season.
NFL NOTEBOOK: Quarterback Seneca Wallace signed with the San Francisco 49ers, who waived wide receiver Ricardo Lockette. Wallace was released by New Orleans earlier this week. The nine-year veteran was released before last season by the Cleveland Browns after playing the previous two seasons with the team. He hasn’t taken a snap in a regular-season game since 2011. Wallace, 33, is a Sacramento native who joins the mix behind starter Colin Kaepernick. Colt McCoy was acquired from Cleveland over the offseason and is currently competing with Scott Tolzien and versatile rookie B.J. Daniels. McCoy and Tolzien have struggled during the preseason, and the team is expected to keep Daniels as the third quarterback or on the practice squad. … Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Le’Veon Bell could return much earlier than expected from a sprained foot, coach Mike Tomlin said Thursday. Tomlin said Bell will not require surgery, as was widely reported, and that already the team has seen dramatic improvement from treatment, including more movements without pain in the past 48 hours. The team is listing Bell’s injury as a mild mid-foot sprain. Bell was ruled out of Saturday’s preseason game and will be re-evaluated next week. Bell, listed as a co-starter with Isaac Redman, was hurt during the first quarter of the Steelers’ 24-13 loss to the Washington Redskins on Monday night. He underwent an MRI on Tuesday.