DETROIT — Matthew Stafford dropped back on Detroit's second offensive play and was sacked by DeMarcus Ware — an ominous sign that for the Lions, not much had changed.
Stafford was again pressured often by the opposing defense, and winless Detroit never found a groove Sunday night in a 24-12 loss to the Denver Broncos. A week after he was knocked around in a game at Minnesota, Stafford was sacked four times, threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
"We had some great drives fizzle out from penalties and bad throws and other stuff, and we have to fix those things," Stafford said. "I can play better, and we'll leave it at that."
He's not the only one who has to play better if the Lions (0-3) want to turn this season around. Their next game is a Monday night affair at Seattle.
Detroit never led against the Broncos. Peyton Manning went 31 of 42 for 324 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The five-time MVP joined Brett Favre as the only players in NFL history with at least 6,000 completions.
Manning was sacked only once after he was sacked seven times in the first two games.
"We protected him better than we have," Denver coach Gary Kubiak said.
The Lions are off to their worst start since 2010, when they finished 6-10.
"We do have 13 games left," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "They're not handing out trophies after three games and you can't be eliminated after three games."
Stafford went 31 of 45 for 282 yards and a touchdown, but Detroit's running game was abysmal. Joique Bell managed only 6 yards on 10 carries.
When the Lions did score near the end of the first half, Aqib Talib blocked the extra point, leaving Denver still ahead 7-6. Then the Broncos (3-0) scored on Manning's 45-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas with 5 seconds left in the second quarter.
Stafford threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Ameer Abdullah early in the third, but the Broncos also stopped a 2-point conversion run to preserve their 14-12 lead.
The Lions had a chance to come back, but in the fourth quarter, Stafford tried to force a pass to Calvin Johnson and safety David Bruton Jr. dropped into a zone to pick off the pass, tipping the ball to himself with his right hand.
"We're trying — it's third-and-extra-long — we've got to make a play to go down, try to score and win the game," Stafford said. "Another great play, the guy tipped it to himself about four times. I wish I could have thrown it higher."
Moments later, Manning lofted a 34-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders, who outjumped cornerback Darius Slay. That set up Manning's 11-yard TD pass to Owen Daniels that made it 24-12 with 2:28 remaining.
Blocking remains an issue for the Lions, whether they're running or passing. Detroit had problems keeping Ware and Von Miller away from Stafford.
The Lions tried to upgrade their offensive line in the offseason, drafting Laken Tomlinson in the first around and trading for Manny Ramirez.
"We ought to be playing better," Caldwell said. "I think oftentimes you can make all the excuses that you want, but the fact of the matter is we should be playing better and we must, and that's my job. I'm not doing a very good job with these guys right now."
Johnson caught six passes for 65 yards, and he was a big part of Detroit's first scoring drive, when the Lions reached the end zone in the second quarter on a 1-yard run by Bell.
The spelling of David Bruton Jr.'s name has been corrected in this story.