EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Matthew Stafford got the Detroit Lions up and down the field — even without Calvin Johnson being much of a factor.
Stafford threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score and the Lions overcame Johnson being limited by an ankle injury to beat the New York Jets 24-17 on Sept. 28.
Jeremy Ross and Eric Ebron caught scoring passes for the Lions, who are off to a 3-1 start for the second straight season. Stafford finished 24 of 34 for 293 yards, and appeared unfazed by his top receiver being in and out of the game.
Johnson was clearly impeded by his injured ankle, which had him questionable for the game. He had just two catches for 12 yards, but Golden Tate picked up for him, catching eight passes for 116 yards.
A struggling Geno Smith had two more turnovers as chants of “We Want Vick!” echoed throughout MetLife Stadium at times. The Jets, who made it close on Chris Johnson’s 35-yard run with 6:58 left, fell to 1-3 for the first time in Rex Ryan’s six seasons as coach.
Smith was 17-of-33 for 209 yards, including an 11-yard TD pass to Eric Decker, but threw an interception and lost a fumble — giving him seven turnovers in four games.
The calls for Vick, the veteran backup, could intensify this week despite Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg giving Smith a vote of confidence last week.
Johnson ripped off a 35-yard run, cutting the deficit to seven at 24-17, and giving the Jets a chance. Johnson, who had been shut down for most of the game, appeared to get stopped near the line of scrimmage, took a few steps to his left and found a hole and took off for the end zone.
But the Jets couldn’t muster much else, and the Lions ran out the last three minutes to seal the win.
The game was a matchup of the league’s top two defenses — Detroit was No. 1 and New York No. 2 — but the Lions were able to move the ball early.
With both teams’ offenses sluggish early, the Lions had the first big play of the game as Stafford found Ross for a 59-yard touchdown with 6:19 left in the opening half to give the Lions a 10-3 lead. Ross blew by converted safety Antonio Allen, and then Allen missed a late tackle attempt as Ross got into the end zone.
After the Jets went three-and-out on consecutive possessions, Ebron made it 17-3 with a 16-yard touchdown catch — his first in the NFL. The No. 10 overall draft pick in May was in single coverage with linebacker David Harris and got by him for the score.
The Jets stayed in it by scoring on their first possession of the second half, an 11-yard touchdown from Smith to Decker midway through the third quarter that made it 17-10.
Greg Salas turned a short reception into a 32-yard gain on third-and-9 to give the Jets the ball at the Lions 14. Three plays later on third-and-7, Decker caught a pass from Smith good for a first down — but muscled his body across the goal line for a score.
The Lions reclaimed control on Stafford’s 1-yard run for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Detroit a 24-10 lead.
Stafford’s run — upheld by video review — capped a 14-play, 90-yard scoring drive that included a 10-yard catch by Reggie Bush on third-and-9, a 21-yard grab by Ryan Broyles — his first of the season — on third-and-2, and a 16-yarder by Tate on second-and-1 from the Jets 18.
The Jets had their next drive short-circuited by Darius Slay’s interception, picking off Smith, who was hit as he threw. The chants of “We Want Vick!” then got louder after Slay returned the ball to the Jets 34.
But the Lions couldn’t capitalize as Alex Henery — signed earlier in the week to replace rookie Nate Freese — was wide right on a 52-yard attempt.
(DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Sports Writer)