Stafford played on after appearing to injure his right ankle Thursday, but the Lions didn't have a first down on either of their final two drives in a 30-23 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
It was an uneven performance all around for Stafford, who threw for two touchdowns but wasn't able to orchestrate another come-from-behind victory.
"We didn't win the game. We didn't play well enough to win it," Stafford said. "Would love to start early, or start fast early, and we didn't, but we fought tooth and nail to get back in."
Down 27-16 early in the fourth quarter, Stafford threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones, who made a tremendous catch in double coverage.
But Stafford remained down on the ground for a while after that play. Defensive tackle Tom Johnson had fallen into the back of his legs, and it looked as if Stafford had hurt his ankle.
The Lions kicked the extra point instead of going for a 2-point conversion, and coach Jim Caldwell later said Stafford's injury was part of the reason why. But the Detroit quarterback had some time to walk around on the sideline and didn't miss an offensive snap.
Stafford and the Lions went three-and-out on their next possession. When they got the ball back again, it was 30-23. Stafford missed Golden Tate on a deep pass over the middle, and then his fourth down pass toward Jones was intercepted.
Stafford hasn't missed a start since the 2010 season, and he'll have some time to recover before Detroit's next game, at Baltimore on Dec. 3. He was asked afterward how he felt.
"Not 100 percent, but ticker's still ticking," he said.
The Lions paid a price for another slow start. Detroit fell behind 10-0 against Cleveland and Chicago the past two weekends, but the Lions were able to rally and win those games. On Thursday, Detroit trailed 13-0 after one quarter.
The Vikings drove 80 yards on 14 plays for the game's first touchdown, although the extra point was blocked. The Lions then gave the ball back on a fumbled exchange between Stafford and Ameer Abdullah. Less than a minute later, it was 13-0.
There were other mistakes later on. Stafford finished 20 of 35 for 250 yards, his lowest completion percentage in more than a month.
The Lions (6-5) trail the first-place Vikings (9-2) by three games in the NFC North.
Stafford has long since proven his durability, but the Lions don't want him limited in any way. Detroit stumbled toward the end of last season after Stafford hurt a finger, losing its final three regular-season games and its postseason opener. The schedule down the stretch is easier this time, but the margin for error is diminished.
"That team is a dang good team and so are we, but we've just got to fix the little problems," Tate said.
"Thankfully we get some extra days off to get healthy because that was a very physical game, as you can see. So, we're going to keep our heads up and keep chugging."