Three and out: Stafford shines in Pro Bowl

Matthew Stafford was named as the fourth alternate when the rosters were announced and got the nod only after several others had to back out.

Kirby Lee

FIRST DOWN

The general reaction around here to Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford being added to the Pro Bowl roster was that he didn’t deserve the invite.

His statistics certainly weren’t all that impressive. He finished ninth in passing yardage (4,257), 14th in touchdown passes (22) and 20th in passer rating (85.7) among quarterbacks with at least 300 attempts.

Stafford was named as the fourth alternate when the rosters were announced and got the nod only after several others had to back out.

Stafford clearly wanted to prove he belonged and he did a pretty good job of it, getting selected as the offensive MVP after passing for 316 yards and two touchdowns to help Team (Michael) Irvin to a 32-28 victory over Team (Cris) Carter Sunday night in Glendale, Ariz.

Many fans and media members mocked Lions general manager Martin Mayhew for describing Stafford’s season as "outstanding" during his season-ending news conference.

It was an overstatement for sure, but Mayhew was impressed by how Stafford had changed his ways and started to limit his mistakes, cutting his interceptions from 19 the previous year to 12, which helped the Lions ride their improved defense to an 11-win season.

Former NFL coach Jon Gruden, the game analyst for ESPN, believes Stafford is on the right track and has a chance to really excel with more experience in offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s system.

Gruden said he expects Stafford and the Lions’ offense "to take a giant step forward" next season.

Stafford, the first Lions’ quarterback in the Pro Bowl since Greg Landry following the 1971 season, came out firing when he took over for starter Tony Romo on Team Irvin’s second possession of the game.

On his first three drives, Stafford passed for 198 yards and two touchdowns. One of his completions went to Lions teammate Golden Tate for 60 yards.

Stafford also took advantage of his other weapons that included Odell Beckham Jr., Emmanuel Sanders, Jason Witten and Jimmy Graham.

Stafford said he had "a blast."

"It was pick your poison," he told reporters. "I was loving every second of it."

Only Peyton Manning has passed for more yards in a Pro Bowl (342 in 2004) than Stafford.

It was nearly the perfect night for him before J.J. Watts got in the way. Watts, the defensive MVP, intercepted Stafford in a goal-line situation in the final seconds of the first half and then recovered a fumble on the first play of the second half following a botched handoff.

Still, Stafford left a good impression, especially for someone who supposedly didn’t deserve to be there.

SECOND DOWN

Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis, who played in high school at Sterling Heights (Mich.) Stevenson, might have earned a lot of money with his Senior Bowl performance.

NFL scouts selected him as the "most outstanding practice player" for the week. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock believes that’s turned Davis (6-foot-5, 321 pounds) into a legitimate candidate for the first round.

"On tape at Iowa, he flashed," Mayock said of Davis, who had only 3 1/2 sacks in his college career. "Here, he did way more than that.

"He played every snap. He showed athleticism, an ability to push the pocket and get to the quarterback.

"He may have elevated himself right into the first round and that’s what this game is all about."

With Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley and Andre Fluellen all eligible for free agency, the Lions likely will be in the market for defensive tackles in the NFL Draft.

THIRD DOWN

The Lions will have the No. 23 pick overall in the draft, the same spot in which they selected offensive tackle Riley Reiff three years ago.

Logical targets are an upgrade to the offensive line, a replacement for the defensive line or a cornerback.

Daniel Jeremiah, a former NFL scout and now an analyst for the NFL Network, is projecting Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams to the Lions in his first mock draft.

"The Lions could upgrade the O-line, but there won’t be many good options at this spot," Jeremiah said. "Williams is a physical cornerback and should be able to play right away."

Jeremiah also released his early list of top-50 prospects. Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes is ranked No. 12 and Michigan receiver/tight end Devin Funchess No. 24.

Projections undoubtedly will change as more information becomes available following the NFL Combine next month. The draft will be held April 30-May 2 in Chicago.