Matthew Stafford has been in the NFL long enough to know that you just simply can’t please everyone. He has also been a member of the Detroit Lions long enough to know that most of the time, you can’t please anyone. “Stafford sucks”, is one of the more popular assessments of his talent level. I, myself, used that to describe the 28 year old cannon-armed kid from Tampa. Early on, it seemed fair. Drafted #1 overall, he seemed like your typical Georgia Peach. Sour if you took a bite too early, and bruised easier than most any other fruit (QB) in the league. Matthew “Glassford” I believe was the mantra for the early part of his career.
The Lions are known for a few peculiar things in the NFL these days; losing, finding new ways to lose, and losing games they’re supposed to win easily. I know, I know, “that’s why we play the games.” Stop. This team has blown more games than I care to count, in embarrassing ways. It begins and ends with 0-16. That’s absurd. A professional sports team actually lost every single game of the season. Now, injuries and just crappy luck played a part, but they still lost each and every game.
But, then it happened. Years and years of futility culminating in the arrival of a savior. Matthew Stafford, a healthy, confident, young quarterback with a plethora of weapons on his hip. When the 2011 regular season started, the postseason was more of an afterthought, most people just wanted to be above .500, and maybe catch a glimpse of the playoffs. What transpired that season is what was expected of Stafford up to that point. 5000+ yards, 41 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions, everything we wanted from a kid like that, with those expectations, he finally delivered.
Realistically, nobody does that regularly in their career, and it was unfair to ask Stafford to continue to do what he had done that year. But, he managed to do get close, at least in yards. Falling less than 40 yards short of 5000 again, but half as many touchdowns, and 17 total interceptions. Not to say yards are meaningless, but if a long drive ends in a field goal, you aren’t winning many games. Again, the next year, 4600 yards, improved to 29 touchdowns, but almost 20 pics that year in 2013. The return on a major investment needs to be much better than that. But, when your offense is based around forcing the ball to your best, and possibly the best WR in football, you get big gains, and take big risks.
Fast forward to today, Calvin has retired (finally), and Stafford actually has to make a decision during each attempt, instead of the predetermined toss up to Johnson. Adversity is making Stafford be more cerebral in the pocket, and it’s making a world of a difference. One of the biggest, and admittedly my biggest, issues with Matthew has been his decision making, which I still attribute to poor offensive strategy, but nonetheless they were his decisions. He’s boasting the highest completion percentage of his career so far, highest passer rating, and over 3:1 touchdowns to interceptions ratio.
For years, almost a decade, Stafford has been able to sit comfortably in Detroit because no matter how bad he or the team performed, Lions fans, or Lions puppets, would defend him to the bitter end. You, yes you, would blame the offensive line, the run game, the defense (which never made sense to me), coaching (more logical) and everything else for his lack of success as a whole. Guess what, he doesn’t need you.
Yes, it is heartbreaking to imagine that your opinion has no meaning to a pro athlete, but it doesn’t. He isn’t reaching out to the people defending him, and he isn’t distraught over what your failed gym teacher neighbor has to say about his most recent performance. Stafford is, wait for it, great. Yes, he is great. The best? Not even close. Elite? Maybe on the doorstep. We’re seeing a quarterback making good decisions, someone who can make good throws out of the pocket. Yes, he has four interceptions this season, I get it, but he is on track for yet another season of just under 5000 yards, and could set a high for his touchdown/interception ratio.
Still, he has no run game, and a pretty lousy offensive line, but he finally has the wherewithal to make the best of each play. Your excuses for him are irrelevant now. He’s playing at a level we haven’t seen from him before, not even in 2011. There are still question marks to how good this Lions team is right now, and on the spectrum, I’d still say not that good. But, it isn’t to take away what I’m seeing right now. The accountability and steps forward he’s taken, just this season are actually incredible.
Now, I’ve securely fastened by head to my body so you can’t rip my head off, so instead of huffing and puffing over how ridiculous this is, look at the numbers. Step back from your bullshit fantasy team, and look at real numbers. Crunch time numbers, take a guess at who leads the league in game winning drives since 2011? You’re correct, it is Stafford. So, watch the games, take a look for yourself, see the improvement. And, while you’re at it, take a second to commend a guy who absolutely never gives up. He is hands down the toughest QB in the league, and you’ll see soon, he’s one of the best. So please, stop making excuses, especially for a kid who simply doesn’t need them.