DETROIT — Matthew Stafford picked apart one of the NFL’s best defenses for a while, throwing for a touchdown on each of the Detroit Lions’ first three possessions.
The Philadelphia Eagles answered, shutting him down for almost two quarters.
Stafford lofted a perfect pass to Golden Tate to set up Matt Prater’s 29-yard kick with 1:28 left, sending Detroit to a 24-23 win over Carson Wentz and Philadelphia on Sunday.
“It was perhaps one of the better anticipatory passes that you’ll see,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.
Detroit’s defense, though, still had to do its job to seal the much-needed victory.
Philadelphia (3-1) had the ball at its 25 with 1:28 remaining and no timeouts left.
Wentz, who did not turn the ball over in his first three games, attempted a long pass to Nelson Agholor on first down and Darius Slay made an over-the-shoulder interception at the Detroit 23.
Even though Wentz’s last pass looked like a desperation heave usually reserved for fourth down or the final seconds of a game, Eagles coach Doug Pederson didn’t mind his decision to go deep.
“It’s not necessarily designed for that, but the opportunity was there,” Pederson said.
Wentz, the No. 2 pick overall in the draft, was 25 of 33 for 238 yards with a pair of 1-yard TD passes to Ryan Mathews and Josh Huff.
“I didn’t buy the hype before today, but he’s is the real deal,” Slay said. “He doesn’t play like a rookie.”
The Lions (2-3) had lost three straight.
“It’s a big one,” Stafford said. “But at the same time, we’ve got to stack these.”
The Eagles turned the ball over for the first time this season with 2:34 remaining when Mathews fumbled on a hit by Slay near midfield.
“This one hurts,” Mathews said.
Stafford put Prater in place to make his field goal by converting a third-and-4 from the Eagles 39 by connecting on a 27-yard pass to Tate, who was going right to left on a crossing route and drew an unnecessary roughness penalty on Malcolm Jenkins.
“I needed that,” Tate said. “This team needed that.”
Tate, who was held to only one catch in last week’s loss at Chicago, had three receptions for 39 yards. The veteran receiver also helped out Detroit’s depleted backfield by lining up as a running back for three carries that gained 6 yards and serving as decoy to help set up Stafford’s 17-yard TD pass to Theo Riddick.
“Hopefully I earned some more reps back there,” Tate said. “Had some flashbacks to high school.”
Philadelphia hurt its chances of staying undefeated with 14 penalties for 111 yards, nearly doubling the number of flags they drew on average over the first three games.
“It’s tough to overcome,” Pederson acknowledged.
The Lions scored on all three of their drives in the first half, building a 21-7 lead late in the second quarter. Stafford threw two TD passes to Riddick in the first quarter and another to Marvin Jones in the second. Through three games, the Eagles hadn’t given up a passing TD, a point in the first quarter or allowed offenses to combine to score three TDs.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz , who led the Lions from 2009 to 2013, seemed to make some adjustments that worked until Stafford made his clutch pass to Tate.
Stafford had his helmet ripped off by defensive tackle Fletcher Fox in the second quarter on a third down, extending a drive that led to a TD instead of a field goal attempt.
“It’s never a good feeling to not have the old helmet on,” said Stafford, who recalled a similar situation at Georgia leading to a big bruise on his forehead.
MAKING A PLAY
Stafford had an unforced fumble early in the second half that was recovered by Nigel Bradham, who was arrested last Sunday on a misdemeanor concealed weapons charge. Bradham didn’t play much in the first half, but Pederson insisted that wasn’t part of team-issued discipline.
Eagles CB Leodis McKelvin returned after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury, aggravated it, but was cleared to return in the fourth quarter. … Lions DT Haloti Ngata left the game with a shoulder injury.
The Eagles play at Washington Sunday. The Lions host Los Angeles on Sunday.