Ryan Ford | Detroit Free Press
Presumably, Stafford’s replacement under center for 2021 is the QB acquired in the deal that sent him to the Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff. (It’s a long time to September, so Goff’s spot isn’t locked up, but he should probably feel pretty confident about his chances.)
So what can the Lions expect from the California native who’s entering his sixth season in the league?
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September reign, December stall
The Lions haven’t won three games in September since 2014 (though they came close in 2019, with two wins and a tie), going 7-9-1 over the past five seasons with Stafford at QB. That’s not entirely Stafford’s fault, though; he posted a solid 98.6 passer rating (65.1%, 4,798 yards, 36 TDs, 12 interceptions) in those 17 games. Still, that’s only 14th among QBs with at least 200 pass attempts over that span.
Goff, meanwhile, has excelled in September, with a 12-3 record — remember, he spent the first two months of his career on the bench for a bad 2016 Rams team — and a 106.3 passer rating, good for fifth in the league. That includes a 68.6% completion percentage, 4,340 yards passing, 27 TDs and 11 interceptions. The QBs ahead of him in September passer rating: Russell Wilson (107.2), Drew Brees (108.3), Lamar Jackson (109.3) and Patrick Mahomes II (124.4!). Then again, Goff barely edged out Alex Smith (106.2) and Gardner Minshew II (104.3) in September, so maybe it’s not the all-important month.
How about December, when the injuries have piled up and great quarterbacks will their teams to the playoffs?
The top September QBs check in here, too, with Jackson at No. 1 (107.5) and Brees at No. 3 (101.9). Stafford’s position doesn’t change much either: 15th, with a 92.8 rating (66.7%/4,384/20/10) despite missing one December entirely (in 2019) and playing through multiple injuries in 2020. To find Goff, though, we have to drop down to 35th, with a passer rating of 83.9 (61.7/5,176/33/21) and an 11-11 record. We’d make a joke about that being “Blake Bortles territory,” except that it literally is; Bortles is No. 36, with a rating of 80.3 and a 6-6 record.
Although NFL QBs do most of their work on Sundays, the spotlight shines a bit brighter on two other days: Thursday and Monday, when most of the league is off and two teams (or six, on Thanksgiving) hit the national airwaves.
Let’s start with Thursday, frequently the bane of good football thanks to nearly everyone playing on short rest. Nearly two dozen quarterbacks — 22 in all — have attempted at least 100 passes on a Thursday over the past five seasons. Of those, Stafford ranks 19th in passer rating at 80.4, completing 99 of 155 attempts (63.9%) over four starts — yes, all on Thanksgiving — for 1,013 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. Goff, on the other hand, has been a Thursday star, with a 110.0 rating (good for fifth), 1,424 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions over five starts. That’s Aaron Rodgers territory — the Packers’ QB is No. 4 with a 113.6 rating. (It’s also Kirk Cousins territory, as MSU’s favorite son is No. 6 at 108.9.)
Ah, but what about Monday, when teams have had an extra day to prep/rest? We’re up to 26 QBs with at least 100 pass attempts since the start of 2016 now, including Stafford at 178 over five games. Unfortunately, he only completed 62.9% of those, for 1,294 yards, five touchdowns, five interceptions and an 82.5 passer rating, which ranked 20th. (Just behind Tom Brady at 83.9, but not nearly far enough ahead of Daniel Jones at 76.1.) Goff, meanwhile, wasn’t quite as sharp as on Thursdays, but still ranked ninth, with a passer rating of 98.0 and 1,454 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions in 203 attempts. (The leaders here were Mahomes at 110.2, Dak Prescott at 118.9 and Josh Allen(!) at 122.5, so Goff has a little Monday Night Homework to do.)
Of course, one of the major failures for the Lions over the past five seasons has been their record against the NFC North. Tough to win the division if you can’t beat anyone in it, and the Lions are 11-19 against their North rivals since the start of the 2016 season, including an 0-9 streak covering all of 2019 and half of 2020. Stafford, though, only played in 26 of those games — ah, that back injury in 2019 — going 11-15 with a 93.3 passer rating (64.4%/6,892/41/19).
Goff’s NFC North resume is much shorter — seven games — and simultaneously more and less successful. He and the Rams went 5-2 against the North (including a 2018 win over the Lions), but Goff’s passer rating was a pedestrian 88.4 in those games. And that was buoyed by two games against the Vikings in which he threw for 690 yards, five TDs and no interceptions. (Note: We didn’t include playoff games because, y’know … Lions — but Goff’s 21-for-27, 174-yard performance in last month’s 32-18 loss to the Packers probably doesn’t move the needle much.)
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Even the most ardent Stafford critics couldn’t deny his penchant for fourth-quarter comebacks; the QB led the league in 2016 with eight game-winning drives — defined as “an offensive scoring drive in the fourth quarter or overtime that puts the winning team ahead for the last time,” according to pro-football-reference.com — and has 18 over the past five seasons combined. That’s even more impressive considering the Lions only have 32 wins in that span. Goff, playing for a much better team for four of those five seasons, naturally has only eight (in 47 Rams victories).
But it’s not all about the quality of the teams. Looking at passing stats when “trailing with under 4 minutes to go” — which could be the title of Stafford’s autobiography — we get 29 QBs with at least 100 attempts. At the top, there are four QBs with passer ratings above 100, and they’re pretty much who you’d expect: Deshaun Watson (101.1), Russell Wilson (102.8), Brees (109.1) and Andrew Luck (124.3). The bottom isn’t too surprising, either: Sam Darnold (45.7) and Philip Rivers (53.0). Stafford, meanwhile, pops up almost precisely in the middle: No. 14 with a 79.1 rating — his 179 attempts are 12th, his 10 TDs are eighth-most and his eight interceptions are fifth-most.
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Goff, though, isn’t far above the bottom tier; his passer rating of 68.0 ranks 25th. Goff (in 140 pass attempts) and Stafford have about the same interception percentage — 4.3% and 4.5%, respectively — but the new Lions QB only had four TDs to go with the turnovers. In fact, Goff’s numbers while running a comeback in the final 4 minutes look, well, Bortles-like; as the ex-Jags QB posted a 73.3 rating in 139 pass attempts. Then again, at least Bortles threw for eight TDs.
Look, we’re not saying the Lions have traded for the second coming of Bortles, the former No. 3 overall pick last seen backing up … Goff. But if you’re looking for evidence of future success at the position the Lions have historically struggled with the most, multiple references to the QB whose name became a punchline on NBC’s “The Good Place” probably aren’t a good sign.
Then again, both Bortles and Goff have one thing this century the Lions (and Stafford) don’t: A playoff victory.