Matthew Stafford’s brutal week beat him and Detroit Lions, even before Vikings did

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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MINNEAPOLIS — This kind of week can wear on anyone, even a star quarterback with a nine-figure bank account.

Matthew Stafford seemed mentally and emotionally spent after Sunday’s 34-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, and it had little to do with another ugly performance by the Detroit Lions on the field.

Stafford spent the last week in isolation after he came in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

He stayed at a local hotel, unable to have in-person contact with family members or teammates, and took part in meetings and walk-throughs by Zoom.

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On Friday, his 2-year-old daughter, Hunter, fell out of her high chair and was taken to the hospital. She suffered a concussion and is doing well, but with no one to help his wife, Kelly — who also was in isolation — look after the couple’s three other children, Stafford briefly considered breaking the NFL’s COVID protocols to be with his family.

“I’m not going to walk you through it, it’s a long story,” Stafford said. “But yeah, I was on my way home.”

Stafford never made it home — Kelly Stafford wrote on Instagram that she found someone to care for her daughters while she was at the hospital with Hunter — and for that reason he was allowed to play in Sunday’s game … after taking a private plane to Minneapolis on Saturday, apart from his teammates, and spending one final night in isolation.

He awoke at 5 a.m. Sunday, took two more COVIID tests, which he passed, and was cleared to rejoin the team — but not his still-isolating-family — a few hours before kickoff.

“I understand it’s a pandemic and people’s health and safety are at risk, and I would feel terrible if I brought that in and infected a bunch of teammates or coaches or whatever it is,” Stafford said. “It doesn’t make it easy, but everybody in the league’s doing it. I just hate being away from my family. Finish a practice, finish a game, go hug my daughters, hug my wife, that’s what sometimes makes it worth it for me, and not being able to see them and hang with them has been really tough. But there’s other people dealing with the same kind of stuff I am. But that’s just the hard part for me.”

As difficult as the week was, Stafford was one of the Lions’ few bright spots Sunday — at least for the first half of what turned out to be the Lions’ ninth straight NFC North loss, a streak dating back to 2018.

He completed 16 consecutive passes at one point in the first half and led three straight would-be scoring drives — Matt Prater ended one with a missed field goal — then came unglued with back-to-back interceptions in the third quarter before leaving the game with just over 11 minutes to play to be evaluated for a brain injury.

The picks essentially ended any chance the Lions had of a comeback. Both came in the red zone; Stafford said the first was a poor decision — he did not see linebacker Eric Wilson in coverage — and the second a bad throw that he tried to squeeze past Eric Kendricks in the back of the end zone.

And Stafford was knocked out of the game on a sack by Wilson and Armon Watts, when his head hit Watts’ leg as he was spun to the ground.

Officials stopped the game to send Stafford to the sideline, where he spent a few minutes being evaluated in a blue medical tent. As he left he tent and headed to the locker room, with two doctors and a team security official in tow, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook broke a 70-yard touchdown run against a Lions defense that had just 10 men on the field.

Stafford, who was cleared from concussion protocol after the game, admitted the stress of the week and the season “weighs on me.”

“I got a lot more grays in my beard now than I used to. But that might just be age, too,” he joked. “No, I love playing this game. This year has been difficult for everybody. Everybody in the league, everybody around the world. I mean, this is a really unique situation and a really tough one. I’m one of the people that’s lucky enough to get to do their job. As tough as it is, there’s a lot of people out there that don’t have a job anymore because of this stuff. I feel blessed to be able to do what I do. It doesn’t make it easy, and it’s not easy for any of us on this Zoom or anywhere, so I understand that. But yeah, I’ve got great support. I’ve got great support from my wife and family and kids and everybody. So it makes it easy. Obviously, not seeing them is tough, but there’s a lot of people not seeing their kids for a lot of different reasons so just got to continue to push forward and try to be better.”

The Lions, 3-5 and tied for last place in the NFC North, have given little reason to believe they’re getting better at the midpoint of the season and are facing renewed questions about Matt Patricia’s future as head coach.

Patricia’s 12-27-1 record (.313 winning percentage) is the worst by a Lions coach since Rod Marinelli, and his team’s defense — supposedly his calling card as a coach — remains one of the worst in the league. 

On Sunday, the Vikings (3-5) opened the game with a pair of easy five-play touchdown drives, going 67 and 64 yards for scores to take an early 13-0 lead, and the Lions had no answers for Cook.

The NFL’s second-leading rusher entering play, Cook had 206 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries Sunday, and Kirk Cousins threw for 220 yards and three scores.

Cousins posted a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3 in the first half.

“We got to take a good look at ourselves and get this thing back on track here and settle things down,” Patricia said. “Starts with me. Starts with coaching. We got to go out and play better on Sundays. I think the guys are working through the course of the week, certainly trying to do everything they can to handle the different scenarios that come up through the course of the week. But we got to come out and play better on Sundays, and that’s really the bottom line.”

Stafford finished 23-for-32 passing for 211 yards, but now has seven interceptions in eight games.

Chase Daniel, who played most of the final quarter in place of Stafford, had 94 yards passing with one touchdown and one interception for the Lions, who have lost two straight and have not won a division game since Week 17 of the 2018 season. 

“Obviously, it’s disappointing when you don’t win, disappointing when you don’t play well,” Patricia said. “From that standpoint, we got to start by coaching better and playing better. See what happens from there.” 

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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