Coaching staff’s COVID issues latest setback in turbulent season for Lions’ Stafford

Detroit News

Matthew Stafford has seen plenty of rough years in his 12 seasons quarterbacking the Detroit Lions, but none have been quite as turbulent as 2020. With two games to go, he’s dealt with not one, but two COVID scares, a head coaching change, painful injuries to his thumb and ribs, and is now seeing the pandemic temporarily sideline several of the team’s coaches, including interim head coach Darrell Bevell. 

Yet through it all, Stafford remains undeterred as he prepares to suit up Saturday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

“I mean it’s definitely been a wild ride, not only for our team and the league, but myself, kinda everybody,” Stafford said. “And really, it doesn’t even really start with the season, it starts all the way back in March and April. Just the offseason, totally different, season, totally different and all that.

Matthew Stafford

“Gotta hand it to the guys on our team and our coaching staff and really our organization, handled it really well. Just control what we can control, go out there and try to do our best job of making it work with what we’ve got. Obviously this week presents a new challenge for us, but guys are still coming into work, ready to run, ready to go and excited to go play.”

After suffering the rib injury less than two weeks ago, Stafford hasn’t been able to fully participate in practice. He was a question mark all last week, but not only did he start the contest against the Titans, he played pretty well before exiting the blowout loss in the fourth quarter. 

And despite taking some shots late in that game, he came out no worse for the wear.

With the Lions eliminated from playoff contention with that loss, some wonder if Stafford should shut it down for the year, living to fight another day. Not surprisingly, that’s not something he’s considering. 

“Not much, if any,” Stafford said when asked if how much thought he’s given it. “I think I just want to go out there and play. As far as how I’m feeling, it’s the end of a season, you know? Got a few things here and there, but I was able to make it through last game without getting much worse, if any. I feel good about my chances to try to be out there this week. I think it’s important to try to go out there and play.

“It’s my job, it’s to go out there and play. I’ve gotta bunch of teammates that are going out there to try and fight and win and I just want to be out there with them, giving everything I’ve got.”

The challenge this week is figuring out what the coaching staff will look like on game day. With Bevell quarantined, and not a lock to be cleared before Saturday, the Lions would have to turn to an inexperienced play-caller. 

Stafford, who typically has significant autonomy at the line of scrimmage, said it was unrealistic for him to actually handle play-calling duty for the entirety of a game. 

“The way we run this offense with mixed personnel, and different people in different spots for certain reasons, yeah, I think we do (need a play-caller),” Stafford said. “You know, if we needed to go out there and throw the ball all over the yard and we didn’t have anybody physically able to call plays, we could get away with it and go for it. But I think we’d be at our best calling plays in this offense and mixing and matching personnels and getting matchups we like. It’s still important.

Do I feel comfortable at the line of scrimmage, going and getting us into some good plays? Yes. But I think we’re at our best when we can mix and match.”

Christmas giving

Every year for the past several, Stafford and his wife Kelly have bought and delivered gifts to hand-selected families who are struggling in the area. Because of the pandemic, they weren’t able to do anything in person this year, but still managed to keep the tradition alive via surprise virtual visits. 

“These people don’t know it’s going to be Kelly and I on the other end (of the Zoom call),” he said. “There have some tricked in to (thinking they were attending virtual) pizza parties. One woman said that she thought her sister-in-law was going to get on and tell her she was pregnant, but it was me on the other side. We’ve done a decent job. The people who have written in, their friends have done a pretty good job of keeping it a secret.

“Quite a bit of surprised faces,” Stafford continued. “So it’s been really cool. Still really rewarding, but at the same time, I wish we could hang out and meet these people. Zoom will have to do for now. Some of them are emotional, some are happy and laughing, they’re all over the place. We just try to hang out and try to get to know some people, so it’s been fun.”

Julian Okwara

Defense gets a boost

The Lions are getting back two key defensive pieces ahead of Saturday’s game with rookie Julian Okwara being activated off injured reserve and Everson Griffen coming off the COVID-19 reserve list after testing positive for the virus nearly two weeks ago. 

In the past two weeks, the Lions have recorded just one sack. 

Additionally, offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai (concussion) was upgraded to limited practice participation on Wednesday after sitting out the day before. 

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