The Detroit quarterback bounced back from a quiet first half and threw three second-half touchdown passes as the Lions rallied for a 38-24 victory on Sunday at Ford Field.
Detroit scored the last 21 points to avoid a costly and embarrassing loss. Stafford completed 17 of 26 passes for 249 yards. He threw for just 57 yards and was intercepted once before the break.
"They had some new wrinkles, as we thought they would coming out of the bye week," Stafford said. "They have a smart defensive coordinator. But our coaches did some great adjustments. At halftime, we came out and executed at a high level."
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell wasn't apologizing for a close call against a winless team.
"To me, it's a good win for us, but we've got a long way to go," he said.
Ameer Abdullah had 52 rushing yards on 11 carries and a touchdown for the Lions (5-4). Golden Tate caught six passes for 97 yards and a score, and cornerback Nevin Lawson returned a fumble 44 yards for a touchdown.
Cleveland rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer passed for 232 yards and a touchdown and also carried seven times for 57 yards.
Kizer missed two second-half possessions after suffering a rib injury on a third-quarter hit from cornerback Quandre Diggs. He returned with 4:28 remaining, but the Lions took the lead while he was getting X-rays, which came up negative.
"I saw a better version of him today," Browns head coach Hue Jackson said. "I see a guy that's starting to 'get it' and that's huge."
Isaiah Crowell gained 90 yards on 16 carries and scored a touchdown for the Browns (0-9). Cleveland gained 201 yards rushing, but couldn't overcome its defensive breakdowns.
"We didn't make those plays down the stretch that I think we can make," Jackson said. "Got to play better. Towards the end, when it's money time, you've got to be able to finish."
The Browns drove 85 yards after the second-half kickoff to tie the score at 17. Crowell finished it with a 6-yard run.
Kizer's 1-yard plunge completed an 80-yard drive and gave the Browns the lead later in the quarter.
Rookie Kenny Golladay's 50-yard reception set up an 8-yard scoring pass from Stafford to Theo Riddick, tying the score at 24.
Tight end Eric Ebron's second touchdown of the season moved the Lions back in front after Kizer's injury. He beat the one-on-one coverage of Derrick Kindred on the 29-yard pass play with 10:46 remaining.
"I threw it like a punt," Stafford said. "That thing was not spinning real pretty, but it ended up in a good spot."
Stafford's 40-yard touchdown pass to Tate with 4:28 left gave Detroit a 38-24 advantage.
"Probably not our most efficient day, but we had some big explosives, and those lead to points," Stafford said. "It was nice for us to connect on some of those shots and make them count."
Cleveland scored the first 10 points of the game, but the Lions rallied to take a 17-10 lead by halftime.
Zane Gonzalez put the Browns on the board with a 23-yard field goal. Linebacker Jamie Collins' interception of a Stafford pass set up Cleveland's first-quarter touchdown. Receiver Kenny Britt caught a short pass, slipped past Lawson and scored on the 19-yard play.
Matt Prater kicked a 46-yard field goal before Abdullah's 8-yard scoring run capped a 90-yard drive to tie it.
Lawson then forced the first turnover of his four-year career, knocking the ball out of tight end Seth DeValve's hands after a 9-yard pass play. Lawson scooped up the ball and raced down the sideline with 3:55 left in the half.
Cleveland drove inside Detroit's 5-yard line in the closing seconds, but the clock expired after Kizer was stopped for no gain at the 2.
"I'm mad at myself," Jackson said of the play call. "It's on me."
NOTES: Lions DE Ziggy Ansah missed the game with a back injury. They were also without starting RG T.J. Lang (concussion), but LT Taylor Decker made his season debut. Decker tore his right labrum in June. ... Detroit is now 16-4 all-time against Cleveland, winning the last four meetings. The teams hadn't faced each other since the 2013 season, when the Lions won 31-17 in Cleveland. ... DT Larry Ogunjobi (groin) and QB Kevin Hogan were among the Browns' inactives. ... QB DeShone Kizer has four rushing touchdowns, the most by a Cleveland quarterback since Brian Sipe had four in 1974.