Clutch Stafford has given Lions a puncher’s chance

Improbable comebacks are becoming the norm for Matthew Stafford

quarterback

Nov 6, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) calls a play during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lions defeated the Vikings 22-16. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season began, former Lions WR Nate Burleson said if he had to choose one quarterback for a late-game drive, he’d choose Matthew Stafford. Naturally, the people at NFL Network laughed at him. With players like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers seeming like much better options, most felt it was a homer pick by Burleson. Nine weeks into the 2016 season, Stafford has made Nate look like a very smart man.

Only two teams have been trailing in every 4th quarter this season – the winless Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions. In all five wins, the Lions have trailed with no more than 90 seconds left, yet Stafford has somehow led the team to five wins, just a half-game out of 1st place in the NFC North.

Obviously, Stafford doesn’t have the Playoff success to overtake someone like Brady and won’t win some fans over until he gets a few Postseason wins. Right now, though, in a regular season game, it’s hard to imagine any other quarterback being a better option than Stafford with the game on the line. To show you how good Stafford has been late, think about this statistic – only two teams have been trailing in every 4th quarter this season, the winless Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions. In all five wins, the Lions trailed with no more than 90 seconds left, yet he’s still led the team to five wins, just a half-game out of 1st place in the NFC North. Most NFL games are close, but it’s rare to see a team consistently snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (a phrase you’re probably not familiar with as a Lions fan).

Lions

Dec 28, 2008; Green Bay, WI, USA; Fans hold up signs celebrating the Detroit Lions 0-16 season during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The Packers defeated the Lions 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Just try and imagine where the Lions would be this year without Stafford. Substitute him with anyone except the top 4-5 guys and you’re looking at a potentially 0-16 caliber team. The Lions aren’t setting the world on fire on offense, but they’ve made the plays and Stafford is being smart with the ball (7 INTs over his last 16 games). Defensively, they can’t seem to make timely stops, as evidenced in the Vikings game most recently. They’ve allowed some average quarterbacks to hurt them in key moments. Stafford hasn’t just been good – 101.6 QB rating, 18 TDs, 2,373 yards through nine games – it’s that he’s doing whatever and whenever it is needed. Detroit does have some young talent but having such a young offensive line, without a feature halfback adds significant pressure to the QB’s job. Theo Riddick is a very talented player but he’s best in space. 2nd-year halfback Ameer Abdullah was lost very early in the season.

When the Vikings started 5-0, people were tripping over each other to praise Sam Bradford, but he didn’t have to carry that team on his back and quickly was exposed. That Vikings defense was playing out of their mind to start the season, particularly at home. Stafford, after seeing his team lose another lead with 23 seconds left, cut the Vikings’ hearts out with a 35-yard drive for a field goal to tie, then a 28-yard TD strike in overtime to give Minnesota their first home loss of the year. That’s just not something most QBs can do. It’s not just us folks around Detroit that are taking notice either.

Mark Craig of the Star Tribune wrote a story about just how prolific Stafford has been over the past year, calling him “Mr Clutch”

“The Lions were 1-6 and had just given up seven sacks to the Vikings at home a year ago when they fired Joe Lombardi as offensive coordinator and promoted Cooter from quarterbacks coach. They’re 11-7 since then.”

Nationally, people are paying closer and closer attention with each comeback. Whether Detroit goes anywhere this season or not is irrelevant. This Lions team with almost any other quarterback would be out of Playoff contention right now. With Minnesota (5-3) looking more like a fluke as the season goes on, and the Packers at 4-4, pointing fingers, this division will likely come down to the very end. That just so happens to be where Matthew Stafford may prefer it.

Follow SLR Editor Matt Urben on Twitter @MattUrben88

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