DETROIT >> The first priority was to get the ball back, and Detroit was in good position to do that on third-and-long.
Then safety Glover Quin turned a crucial defensive stand into something even better.
Quin’s interception late in the fourth quarter gave the Lions great field position, and Matthew Stafford found Corey Fuller for the winning touchdown moments later, capping a dramatic comeback in Detroit’s 24-23 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
The Lions trailed 23-10 before Stafford threw two scoring passes in the final 3:38 — with Quin’s interception coming between them.
“Our defense did a great job of getting us the ball back,” Stafford said. “We fight, we never gave up, obviously had to have some things go our way, made some plays and won the game.”
The Saints (2-4) were in control late in the fourth quarter when Stafford found Golden Tate for a 73-yard catch-and-run that made it 23-17. Then Drew Brees was intercepted on third down by Quin, whose 23-yard return gave the Lions (5-2) the ball at the New Orleans 14.
Detroit caught another break when Rafael Bush was called for pass interference on fourth down. Stafford eventually connected with Fuller in the back of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown and the win.
The Saints committed 12 penalties for 134 yards.
“I thought the penalties ended up hurting us,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “I wasn’t happy with how that game was officiated. I’ll leave it at that, and yet that wasn’t the reason in the end.”
Detroit won for the second straight week without star receiver Calvin Johnson, who is nursing an ankle problem. The Lions sputtered for most of the game before Tate caught Stafford’s pass around his own 35, turned up the field and outran two New Orleans defenders who looked as if they had good angles to make the tackle.
Tate caught 10 passes for 154 yards, both career highs.
“That play he made on that long touchdown is as good of a play as I’ve seen in a long time,” said Stafford, who has seen his share of impressive receiving plays in Detroit. “Gave him a chance on a ball. He came back and caught it, he did the rest.”
Then it was up to Detroit’s defense — which came into the game ranked No. 1 in the NFL — to give the offense another chance. The Lions had timeouts remaining, and the Saints let Brees try to throw for a first down. His pass over the middle was intercepted, giving Detroit a short field.
“We knew on third down that Drew likes to go to the sticks, and he likes to throw in the middle of the field,” Quin said. “The D-line was closing in on him, and he tried to look me off a little bit, but he was trying to hit the tight end or somebody coming right across the field. All the film study, all the preparation added up, and we were able to make a big play.”
On fourth-and-5 from the 9, Stafford threw toward running back Reggie Bush, who had not been much of a factor against his former team. Bush appeared to be short of the first-down marker, and the ball fell incomplete — but Rafael Bush arrived a bit early, and the penalty gave the Lions a new set of downs.
Fuller made a nice jumping catch in the back of the end zone and got both feet down for the final touchdown.
Cornerback Darius Slay broke up a fourth-down pass by Brees with 21 seconds remaining to seal the win. During one stretch in the fourth quarter, Brees went 10 straight passes without a completion, the longest dry spell of his career, according to STATS.
“The worst feeling in professional sports is when you feel like you let your team down,” Brees said. “That’s the way I feel right now with that interception.”
Brees did throw for 342 yards and two touchdowns, including a 46-yarder to Kenny Stills in the third quarter that put New Orleans ahead 17-3. Stafford threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns, although he threw a pair of interceptions that nearly cost Detroit dearly.
Stafford forced a pass into coverage late in the first quarter, and Keenan Lewis picked it off, giving the Saints the ball at the Detroit 29. Brees found Austin Johnson for a 13-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.
Matt Prater kicked a 21-yard field goal for the Lions, banking it through off the left upright. Not to be outdone, Shayne Graham banked a 27-yard field goal through off the left upright on the final play of the half, giving New Orleans a 10-3 lead.
Stills slipped behind the defense on the first drive of the second half and gathered in Brees’ deep pass to give New Orleans a two-touchdown lead. The Lions answered with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Joique Bell’s 1-yard scoring run.
Graham’s 48-yard field goal made it 20-10 with 13:33 remaining. Detroit then drove into the red zone, but tight end Jordan Thompson dropped a pass, and the ball bounced right to Kenny Vaccaro for an interception.
NOTES: New Orleans TE Jimmy Graham, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury, played but did not catch a pass. He was targeted only twice. … Saints C Jonathan Goodwin left in the second quarter with a left leg injury. New Orleans also lost NT Brodrick Bunkley in the second half to a concussion, and fellow DL Glenn Foster left with a knee injury. … Stafford tied Bobby Layne for Detroit’s career lead with his 118th touchdown pass.