Stafford, Romo playing for reputations Sunday

Whoever loses will undoubtedly have to continue living with the criticism for not doing enough when it matters most.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo, two much-maligned quarterbacks throughout most of their careers, will be playing for their reputations Sunday afternoon when the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys meet in the opening round of the NFL playoffs.

If the Lions — who are 6 1/2-point underdogs — win, then Stafford will be praised for delivering the franchise’s first postseason victory since 1991, and only the second since 1957.

And if the Cowboys —  who are the home team — win, then it will be Romo who is celebrated for carrying his team to its first playoff victory in five years and only the second in the last 18 seasons.

Whoever loses will undoubtedly have to continue living with the criticism for not doing enough when it matters most.

Both of them have to try to block all of that out on almost a daily basis, especially at this time of year.

"I don’t really care too much about it honestly," Stafford said of the perceptions, which are perpetuated by his 0-16 record on the road against teams with winning records in his career. "I don’t play the game by myself. I play with 10 other guys on offense, 11 guys on defense and special teams as well.

"We’re all fighting tooth and nail to win games."

But how a quarterback in the NFL performs in December and January often defines them more than how many yards and touchdowns they pass for overall.

Stafford is 0-1 in the playoffs, losing at New Orleans in 2011. Romo is 1-3 and without a playoff appearance since 2009.

Romo is still best remembered for fumbling a snap on what could have been the game-winning field goal in a one-point loss at Seattle in the first round in 2006.

"We’re all judged on championships and winning," Romo said during a conference call with Detroit reporters. "That’s the way it’s always been, and will always be. Head coaches, quarterbacks, that’s what they’re look at and judged on.

"You’ve got to play good when it counts."

Stafford, 26, in his sixth NFL season after being the No. 1 pick overall in 2009 out of Georgia,  doesn’t always get enough credit for it, but he has certainly come through in some pressure situations over the years.

A year ago against the Cowboys, he led the Lions on an improbable 80-yard drive in the final 62 seconds, winning the game on a 1-yard sneak when he faked as if he was going to spike the ball.

Earlier this season, Stafford had similar magic working at the end of three consecutive comeback victories against New Orleans, Atlanta and Miami, a streak of good fortune that carried Detroit to the playoffs.

The Lions overcame a 13-point deficit to beat the Saints when Stafford threw two touchdown passes in the final 3:38.

He then helped lead another rally after the Lions trailed by 21 points to the Falcons. In that one, the franchise quarterback threw for two scores and set up two field goals in the final 23 minutes.

And Stafford did it again with an 11-yard touchdown strike to Theo Riddick with 29 seconds left to beat the Dolphins, which was his 11th career game-winning drive in the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime.

Stafford’s season overall, however, has been a little bumpy. His passer rating of 85.7 ranks 21st among starting quarterbacks in the league.

He’s thrown for 4,257 yards, a considerable drop going back to 2011 and 2012 when he averaged 5,000 yards a season.

On the other hand, his interception total of 12 is the fewest he’s thrown during this four-year run of starting all 16 games.

He’s learning how to manage a game better, but at times it’s meant being less prolific.

"I was getting criticized when I was throwing for 5,000 yards and not winning games," Stafford said. "If you try and make everybody happy, it’s going to be a long day for you. I just try and help my team win. We have 11 wins this year and I’m pretty fired up about that.

"I’m probably a little bit better at doing what it takes to win games and not just throw for a million yards and a million touchdowns. Try to find ways to help our team win whether that’s making sure we don’t turn the ball over on third-and-long and we punt it. It’s situations like that where I feel I’ve grown."

FAIL MARY II: MORE MNF CONTROVERSY

While Stafford has been a little more inconsistent, Romo has been at his very best, especially of late.

Romo, 34, in his 11th season in the league, led all NFL quarterbacks with a passer rating of 113.2.

Yes, better than even Aaron Rodgers (112.2), Peyton Manning (101.5) and Tom Brady (97.4).

Romo, who went undrafted coming out of Eastern Illinois in 2003, is arguably playing as well as he ever has, putting the notion that he couldn’t win big games in December to rest.

He threw for 12 touchdowns and only one interception while leading the Cowboys to a 4-0 record in December.

But can he do it now in January?

Because all most people will remember about this season for both Stafford and Romo is whether they win this playoff game.

EXTRA POINTS

—- Defensive tackle Nick Fairley who has missed the last eight games because of a knee injury, returned to practice Thursday. It’s still unlikely he will play Sunday, but this increases the possibility that he might be back if the Lions advance.

— Teryl Austin, the first-year defensive coordinator for the Lions, confirmed to reporters that he been asked to interview for head-coaching vacancies with the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers. He could meet with those teams as early as next week.

— Lions receiver Golden Tate wasn’t amused with Cowboys safety Barry Church’s vow to pay him back for a blindside hit on another Dallas player from a couple years ago.

Tate claimed he didn’t even know who Church was before Wednesday.

"You can’t hit what you can’t catch," Tate said, according to MLive’s Justin Rogers. "He may try to hit me and hurt himself."