DETROIT (AP) — With 15 seconds remaining and no timeouts, about the only thing Matthew Stafford couldn't afford was a sack.
The Detroit quarterback faked a handoff, dropped back and waited patiently for running back Kevin Smith to drift open in the flat. As time ticked, even coach Jim Schwartz was hoping Stafford would throw the ball away.
"It's very, very difficult to go through a progression that way when you're already sped up," Schwartz said. "Matt did a very good job of understanding a situation, controlling a situation and was able to make the play that won us the game."
Stafford's 5-yard touchdown pass to Smith with 10 seconds left gave the Lions a 27-23 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Stafford threw three interceptions — one of which was run back for a touchdown — but Detroit scored two fourth-quarter TDs to avoid an upset.
The Lions went 80 yards in 1:45 for the win, and they kept moving after reaching field goal range. Contrast that with the previous St. Louis drive, when the Rams had to settle for Greg Zuerlein's 46-yard field goal and a 23-20 lead.
"Really disappointed for our team because they did a great job preparing. I felt like they knew what to do," St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said. "They had a great deal of respect for their opponent and we gave ourselves a chance to stay in the game and win at the end."
Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, threw three interceptions in the first half. But he finished 32 of 48 for 355 yards.
Detroit's All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson caught six passes for 111 yards, including an 18-yard grab just before Smith was left alone for his second TD of the game. On the pivotal play, the Rams double-covered Johnson and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar seemed to lose sight of Smith.
"I knew in that formation Calvin would get all of the attention," Stafford said. "That's exactly what happened."
Schwartz, however, had to sweat it out on the sideline while his quarterback checked down to Smith.
"Kevin was the last option on that play, probably behind 'throw it away' because he was part of the play action and protection," Schwartz said. "The head coach was on the headphones, 'Throw it away Matt, throw it away!' It shows you what a good quarterback I'd be."
There were a few times earlier in the game when Stafford probably should have taken that advice. The first St. Louis interception was by Janoris Jenkins at the goal line, and he returned it 34 yards. Dunbar picked off a pass in the second quarter and took it 42 yards to the Detroit 44.
Then Cortland Finnegan returned his interception 31 yards for a touchdown to give the Rams a 13-7 lead.
It was 13-10 at halftime.
Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick a year after Stafford, threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson with 9:45 remaining in the game. That gave the Rams a 20-13 lead — and they looked like they might be on their way to a surprising win after going 2-14 last season.