Remember that jaw-dropping throw Matthew Stafford made against Kansas City last year — a dart to Kenny Golladay through an inconceivable small window between four defenders for a touchdown?
Well, Stafford donned his wizard’s cap again this past Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
It was early in the game, with the Lions trailing 7-0 and facing third-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Stafford took a shotgun snap and dropped back a couple steps, looking first to rookie Quintez Cephus, the lone receiver to the left side.
With Cephus eliminated by a physical jam from the Titans cornerback, Stafford turned his feet and eyes to his right where three options bunched tight to the formation were navigating a crowded end zone full of defenders, while running back Adrian Peterson leaked into the flat uncovered.
Most quarterbacks would fling it out to the running back and hope they can beat one defender for the score. But not Stafford. By keeping his eyes and body facing right, he forced middle linebacker Rashaan Evans to commit that direction just enough for a no-look, cross-body throw to Marvin Jones, running right to left across the back of the end zone.
From the end zone cam, nine of Tennessee’s 11 defenders are in the frame. The throw slices around the outstretched arm of defensive end Matt Dickerson, between defensive lineman DaQuan Jones and linebacker David Long Jr., with Evans, the deep man, out of position because Stafford forced him to.
“There aren’t many guys that can do what he did on that play,” Lions quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan said Tuesday. “And he’s done it numerous times that I’ve seen in my two years. So I can imagine how many over the course of his career that he’s done it. And he’s gotten better at it. He’s got a good relationship with Marv, in terms of trusting him and knowing where he’s going to be.”
Ryan said Stafford routinely makes those types of throws in practice, where he’s cultivated his ability to move defenders away from where he wants to throw the ball.
“When there’s a route showing up at a certain area of the field and he knows he needs to get a guy out of that area, he will mess with them with a shoulder turn, with his head, with his eyes,” Ryan said. “And sometimes he brings his eyes back to throw off of that and sometimes he doesn’t. It’s routes in the middle of the field, it’s routes down the field, it’s holding middle-of-the-field safeties to throw a deep ball. It’s all kinds of throws, from short to intermediate to deep throws.
“And the guy does it time and time again because he understands the game, he’s a student of the game and he’s got that rare ability to talent where he can do those things. When you put those few things together — the understanding, the smart play and the talent — you’re going to see a good amount of throws that are impressive.”
Stafford, who was playing through a painful rib injury, exited the game in the fourth quarter, with the Lions down 21 points and the outcome all but decided. But even though the team has been eliminated from playoff contention, interim coach Darrell Bevell said there are currently no plans to shut the quarterback down for the year.
“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 his statement to you guys after the game. There’s a sense of pride. There’s a sense that you need to be there, you want to be there for your teammates.
“Obviously, to make it clear, we’re not going to put him in a situation where he can have a long-standing injury from this or repercussions from it. But if the guy wants to go out there and compete with his teammates and be there for them, then I love him for it.”