| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Lions’ T.J. Hockenson wishes he could actually play in a Pro Bowl
Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson speaks to the media on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020.
Detroit Lions, Wochit
Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are running neck-and-neck for NFL MVP. Josh Allen just led the Buffalo Bills to their first division title in 25 years. And he coaches arguably the greatest quarterback of all time.
But Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians spent Tuesday gushing over another signal caller that he said is in the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, the Detroit Lions‘ Matthew Stafford.
“He’s one of my all-time favorite guys,” Arians said. “Like I said the other day, he’s one of the few quarterbacks I like going out and watching warm up just to watch him throw cause he’s so special and I’ve always felt like he was … one of the top four or five guys in this league for a long time. And he is, like I say, he’s tough as nails and his guys know it. They know he’s going to suck it up for them.”
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Arians has a rich history coaching some of the best quarterbacks of this generation.
He spent three years with soon-to-be Hall of Famer Peyton Manning as quarterbacks coach. He was the offensive coordinator for Ben Roethlisberger’s second Super Bowl. He coached Andrew Luck as a rookie. And this season, he has worked side-by-side with six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady.
But Arians said he always has had a special affinity for Stafford’s physical ability.
“He can make every throw from every angle, and he’s just so, so talented,” Arians said. “There are only so many guys that are that talented that they say, ‘Hey, I’m going to sneak out and go watch him warm up.’ So I’ve been a fan of his for a long, long time.”
Stafford was listed as limited on the Lions’ estimated practice report Tuesday as he continues to battle rib and thumb injuries that have had little impact on his play.
Stafford completed 22 of 32 passes for 252 yards in last week’s loss to the Tennessee Titans before he was pulled with the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
Interim Lions head coach Darrell Bevell said Tuesday that the Lions have not given any thought to shutting down Stafford for the season even though the team was eliminated from playoff contention last week.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think he’ll let that happen,” Bevell said. “These guys are true competitors. I think you saw (that in) his statement to you guys after the game. I mean, there’s a sense of pride, there’s a sense of that you need to be there, you want to be there for your teammates.”
The Lions (5-9) have lost four of their last five games and are guaranteed to finish with a losing record for the third straight season.
Stafford’s future in Detroit remains up in the air as the organization goes through another regime change, and Arians said Stafford has not gotten the credit he has deserved over the years because of the Lions’ lack of success.
In 12 seasons with Stafford as quarterback, the Lions have had just four winning records and made the playoffs three times.
“I think ‘same old story,'” Arians said. “It’s winning. You can be a great player, if your team’s not winning, you’re not going to get what you deserve, and he deserves a lot.”
The Lions did not practice Tuesday because of a COVID-19 outbreak, but listed five players as non-participants on their estimated practice report: Jamie Collins (neck), Tyrell Crosby (ankle), Kenny Golladay (hip), Frank Ragnow (throat) and Halapoulivaati Vaitai (concussion).
Bevell said Ragnow, who fractured cartilage in his throat in a Dec. 13 loss to the Green Bay Packers, will visit a specialist again Thursday in his bid to return to action.
“That will tell us all the information that we need to know,” Bevell said. “How well he’s healed, and if he’s healed well enough to go out there and perform.”
Because Ragnow has been told not to talk, Bevell said he had a funny exchange with Ragnow when he FaceTimed the third-year center to tell him he made the Pro Bowl on Tuesday.
“The second he answered, I’m like, ‘Don’t say anything, I just got to talk to you,'” Bevell said. “It was fun. It was really a fun conversation and obviously one-sided because he couldn’t say much, but his face lit up and it was really exciting.”