Stafford has another chance to quiet skeptics

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) Matthew Stafford’s homecoming is a secondary story line this weekend – if that.

Still, there’s something fitting about the fact that Detroit’s quarterback will play perhaps the biggest game of his career against the team he grew up rooting for in the Dallas suburbs – the Lions open the postseason in Texas against the Cowboys on Sunday.

”I don’t need much motivation, it’s a playoff game. `Win or go home’ gives you enough motivation,” Stafford said. ”Obviously, it’ll be fun playing in front of a bunch of my friends and family, but other than that, just trying to win a football game.”

Stafford could really use a victory in this one. The No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, he’s put up big numbers during his career and helped the Lions return to respectability, but that’s the extent of his accomplishments so far.

This is the team’s second postseason appearance with Stafford, and the Lions still have only one playoff win in the Super Bowl era – against Dallas in January 1992.

The 26-year-old Stafford is at the point in his career where more is expected from a franchise quarterback, and an uneven regular season did little to quiet his legion of skeptics – even though the Lions went 11-5 to secure an NFC wild card.

”I was getting criticized when I was throwing for 5,000 yards, 4,000 yards and not winning games. I’m going to get criticized,” Stafford said. ”If you try and make everybody happy it’s going to be a long day for you.”

The Lions made the playoffs in large part because of their consistency. They beat the teams they were expected to beat, but they generally came up short in the toughest games on their schedule.

Stafford is 0-17 on the road in his career against teams that finished the regular season with a winning record, according to STATS. That includes a playoff loss at New Orleans at the end of the 2011 season.

It also includes last weekend’s loss at Green Bay, when the Lions had a chance to win the NFC North. Stafford was 20 of 41 for 217 yards and three touchdowns – good enough to keep Detroit in the game, but not good enough to win it.

Stafford hasn’t been helped much by his offensive line this season. He’s been sacked 45 times, and that’s part of the reason he’s thrown for only 4,257 yards – his fewest over a full season in his career.

Coach Jim Caldwell made it clear he doesn’t think Stafford alone will determine whether the Lions win or lose against Dallas.

”He has an opportunity to play great. We’re hoping that he plays well,” Caldwell said. ”It doesn’t take him playing great for us to win. He just has to play well. There’s a lot of other people on that football team that have to do their job. It’s absolutely not just a one-man show.”

One of Stafford’s best moments as a pro came last season in a home victory over Dallas. Stafford threw for 488 yards and won the game with a 1-yard run in the final seconds. Calvin Johnson had 14 catches for 329 yards in that game.

”It was a tough matchup for us and chips just fell where they did,” Johnson said. ”We ended up having a great game on offense and it still was a close game. To be able to have the output I did in that game was crazy.”

Days like that have been few and far between for the Detroit passing game this season, but Stafford and Johnson are still one of the league’s most dangerous tandems – and another huge performance is always a possibility.

”There will be a time when you will say that Matthew Stafford is one heck of a quarterback,” Caldwell said. ”He’s moving in that direction, and that could be come Sunday.”

NOTES: The Lions listed DT Nick Fairley (knee) as doubtful. He hasn’t played since Oct. 26. OL Larry Warford (knee) is out.


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