Why Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford was adamant about playing vs. Tennessee Titans

Detroit Free Press

Carlos Monarrez
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Matthew Stafford didn’t think he was going to play Sunday.

And then he played Sunday. And pretty well, too.

The Detroit Lions’ 12th-year quarterback gutted out yet another gritty performance while playing through a rib cartilage injury in a 46-25 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

“Yeah, it was a long process all week,” Stafford said. “Our trainers did a great job and, yeah, to be honest with you, early on in the week, I didn’t think I was going to be able to play.”

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Stafford suffered his injury late in last week’s loss to the Green Bay Packers — a game he couldn’t finish because of the injury. X-rays were negative. He didn’t really start to feel better until Friday, when he practiced on a limited basis.

“(I) came in, was feeling okay, and then guys started jogging around in practice and I decided to see how it was feeling,” he said. “And it felt OK and moved around a little bit, threw some balls there and hopped in a drill or two and felt OK. And then it just continued to get a little bit better yesterday and today, and then just decided to give it a go and felt good enough to go there for a little bit and was able to make it.”

Friday was the key. That’s when Stafford decided he would play if he didn’t take a turn for worse.

“I mentally kind of told myself something bad was going to … have to happen between Friday night and Sunday,” he said. “So, as I continued to feel a little bit better each day, I was going to go. So I just kind of told myself Friday night that I was going to give it a go.”

Stafford finished 22 of 32 for 252 yards with a touchdown and a 102.6 passer rating. He threw some beautiful deep passes; like the one down the sideline to a striding Quintez Cephus for 36 yards and one up the middle to Hunter Bryant for 44 yards.

“But yeah, I mean, I didn’t, I did not feel good enough at all on Wednesday or Thursday or Tuesday or any of those days,” he said. “So just glad it kind of turned the corner for me and I just want to go out there and try and help us win.”

Interim coach Darrell Bevell couldn’t praise Stafford enough for finding a way to make it back onto the field.

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Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford: ‘Didn’t think I was gonna be able to play’

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford: ‘Didn’t think I was gonna be able to play’ with rib injury vs. Titans. Filmed Dec. 20, 2020.

Detroit Lions

“Yeah, the amazing thing is I wish you guys could just see him day to day,” Bevell said. “You don’t get to see him, obviously with the COVID and some of the things now, as much as you might have before. But just day to day and some of the states that he was in earlier in the week and the performance that he had was — I mean, it’s remarkable. Just gritty, tough.

“I mean. the way that he leads his teammates. I mean, his guys want to go out there and fight for a guy like that. He’s laying it all on the line, giving it everything he has, and I just applaud him for it.”

The offensive line did its best to keep Stafford safe and didn’t allow a sack. But it the Titans did record five quarterback hits, including a huge hit by 290-pound defensive tackle Teair Tart that was the result of center Joe Dahl’s low snap. Stafford got up slowly, threw one more pass and then yielded to Chase Daniel with about 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“Yeah, just kind of anytime I was going to the ground, that was when I felt probably the most discomfort,” Stafford said. “So that was just another time of that, and the guy was trying to get on the ball, which I understand, and he jumped and just landed on me. And just the pressure of another player’s weight on me was some of the worst stuff.”

Since Stafford started his career missing 19 of 32 games and was called a “china doll” by a teammate, he has turned into one of the NFL’s most durable quarterbacks. A back injury last year finally ended his consecutive starts streak at 136 games.

But Stafford said he didn’t want too much credit for gutting it out Sunday because he was aware of what many of his teammates have to endure to play. He only gave this reason for why he thought it was important he take the field:

“Because I’m the quarterback of the Detroit Lions,” he said, “and it was Sunday and I got a bunch of teammates out there that worked their ass off and they fight to be available and fight to get out there and play and try and help us win, and if there’s any way I can play, I’m never going to not, you know?

“It’s just I feel like I owe it to those guys. I owe it to the game. I owe it to this organization, everybody. If I’m good enough to play, healthy enough to play, my ass is going to be out there. So I feel like I was good enough to play and that’s why I wanted to be out there.”

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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