You’ll miss Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford when he’s gone. Here’s why

Detroit Free Press

Jeff Seidel
 
| Detroit Free Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — You are going to miss this.

You are going to miss Matthew Stafford’s toughness.

The Detroit Lions veteran quarterback played against Tennessee on Sunday despite a painful rib injury that had kept him out of practice most of last week. But he suited up on Sunday in a miserable, forgettable, pointless 46-25 loss to the Titans.

Of course, he did. Because he’s one of the toughest players in the NFL.

[ Earth to the Lions: Time to sit battered Stafford for final two games ]

And you are going to miss that.

“It’s a valiant effort for him really to even get out there,” Lions interim coach Darrell Bevell said. “It was amazing watching him during the week, and I just want to say that about him, just how tough and gritty he is.”

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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

You are going to miss Stafford’s creativity, how he can change his arm angle and flip a pass between two defenders, finding a path to throw that only he could see. He threw for 252 yards and a touchdown Sunday, even though it looked like it hurt to breathe.

You are going to miss his ability to lead his team to fourth-quarter victories. But right now, this team is so bad he doesn’t even get a chance for that.

GRADES: So many Fs on defense for Lions in loss to Titans

RELATED: Why Stafford was adamant about playing vs. Tennessee Titans

So if you take a step back and look at the big picture, you have to wonder: Why does he do it?

“Because I’m the quarterback of the Detroit Lions and it was Sunday and I got a bunch of teammates out there that worked their (butts) 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,” Stafford said. “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 (butt) is going to be out there.”

I know he has never led this team to a playoff victory. I know he has never lifted this team to a championship level. And his stats can feel empty. But you are going to miss this attitude.

‘Remarkable’ tolerance

Stafford didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday. Because he couldn’t. He was in too much pain.

“Early on in the week, I didn’t think I was going to be able to play,” Stafford said.

Doctors and trainers worked on him, trying different things. But there’s not a lot you can do with an injured rib. Other than just deal with the pain.

[ Phil Simms hopes Lions get rid of Stafford so he can win Super Bowl ]

But he practiced on Friday. “Next thing you know he goes out there and flings a couple balls and he’s like, ‘Hey, I want to take this rep,’” Bevell said. “And he’s just a competitor. I think getting a rep or two was able to show him, like, ‘OK, maybe I can do this,’ and really it went all the way down to this morning, and he just woke up and was like, ‘Yep, I’m going.’

On Sunday, he woke up and decided he could play.

“It’s remarkable,” Bevell said. “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.”

You are going to miss his ability to spread the ball around — he completed passes to nine different receivers on Sunday.

He’s the best quarterback in franchise history. I believe Stafford could lead a team to a Super Bowl, if it’s the right team.

But he has never played on a team good enough.

That should be considered an organizational failure more than an indictment of Stafford.

Time to move on

This Lions team is years from being a true playoff contender.

You can thank former general manager Bob Quinn for that. The injury-depleted defense is horrible and should be blown up. The offense has only a handful of players who are keepers. In short, this organization requires a complete rebuild. A total reset. A new attitude. A new philosophy and a new identity.

You don’t start a rebuild with a 32-year-old quarterback who has been hit so many times that his body is starting to break down. A year ago, Stafford suffered a broken back and he’s playing with a thumb injury and ribs that have been crunched and twisted.

Would it make sense to draft a quarterback, keep Stafford for a year before letting the rookie play?

Yes. So I’m not saying this is the end.

But it would make even more sense to trade him now when his value is the highest.

In his last three games since Patricia was fired, Stafford has thrown five touchdowns with just one interception, while passing for 898 yards. He has three-straight games with more than a 100 QB rating.

Despite the injuries, and the lack of offensive talent, and a make-shift offensive line, Stafford is still producing.

But I just don’t want to see him stick around during a rebuild. I don’t want to see him get beat up, playing injured for an awful team.

We’ve seen that far too long, including Sunday.

Thankfully, mercifully, finally, in the fourth quarter Bevel pulled Stafford.

“I really felt like he had given us all he could give,” Bevell said. “I just didn’t want to put him in any more situations where he could re-injure the thing. He gave us all he had at that moment.”

In some ways, the organization is faced with the same moment.

Stafford has given all he has. It’s time to thank him for everything — for his toughness, for his leadership, for everything he’s done in the community — and move on.

But when the next quarterback struggles because he’s young and inexperienced, or when — heaven help us — he isn’t as good as Stafford, you are going to miss him.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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