Matthew Stafford will answer ultimate Detroit Lions question: Is it player or uniform?

Detroit Free Press

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Justin Verlander left and won a title. Remember him? Remember that?

Of course, you do. Many of you rooted for him to win the World Series. Detroit can be like that. I’m guessing it will still be like that if Matthew Stafford does the same.

Oh, it won’t be as clean. And the percentage of you that would enjoy some national Stafford love might not be as great. But, still, he is an honorary Detroiter, and we take care of our own, and did you see social media crackle Thursday night when NFL color analyst Chris Collinsworth told his audience he hadn’t realized Stafford “was that good?!?”

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“I gotta be honest,” he said while broadcasting the Buccaneers-Cowboys game.

Apparently, Collinsworth was forced to watch lots of Stafford tape in preparation for Sunday night’s Bears-Rams tussle, a game he will call for NBC. Which proves that the half century of Detroit Lions’ misery largely has been our own and that Stafford was lumped in with the most desultory franchise in professional football.

That’s the narrative, right? If a quarterback doesn’t win, then he stinks. The only problem is that it’s not a consistent narrative.

Consider Thursday night’s Tampa-Dallas game that saw Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott return from a gruesome injury and nearly knock off the defending champs. He threw for three touchdowns and more than 400 yards. He lost.

Yet the buzz the next morning was how good he looked. Because the perception is that Prescott is a good quarterback, potentially even a great one. Then again, Prescott already has done something Stafford never has: win a playoff game.

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Maybe that will be the best measure between the love Verlander got on his Houston Astros run to the World Series and a potential run to the Super Bowl for the Rams. Verlander won, big. He helped take the city to the World Series twice and a handful of divisional crowns.

Stafford never got close. How much you blame him for that as opposed to the Lions will likely dictate your emotional response to any Rams’ success. Though there is so much institutional contempt toward the Lions that it’s hard to imagine many of you won’t feel pride if he gets a national moment or two.

The reaction to Collinsworth’s statement Thursday night is Exhibit A. It wasn’t just because he’s a football analyst and expected to know every quarterback in the league. No, many took his comment as an affront to this region’s identity, as another slight from another national rube who had overlooked our city.

Can you blame Collinsworth?

Well, maybe.

Stafford played seven times on the Sunday night showcase. That’s a decent sample. Then again, that was seven games (and two more playoff games Collinsworth called) in 12 years … and the Lions lost all but one.

So maybe that losing prejudiced Collinsworth. Stafford struggled in many of the losses, too — the most the Lions scored was 26. He was also dueling quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson and Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers, who beat him twice.

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Add it up and Collinsworth watched a big-armed guy keep coming up short. Never mind that the Lions were almost always overmatched everywhere else.

Does that sound like an apologist? So be it. It’s the truth.

It’s also true that Stafford had opportunity to make the play to change his story. A missed throw here. An interception there. He was hardly perfect.

On the whole, though, he was often very good, and played for years without the luxury of leading teams good enough to win on his so-so days. By digging into all that tape, Collinsworth obviously saw a lot of that good.

A lot of those throws. You know the ones. Downfield. Underneath coverage. Side-armed. Throws that analysts like Collinsworth would’ve gushed over had they gotten more of a chance.

And that’s issue here, right?

Chance. Opportunity. It’s why Stafford finally asked out. He craved high-leverage opportunity. You can argue that a great quarterback creates his own high leverage moments. That’s true, to a degree.

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It’s also true that 10 other players influence how a quarterback looks. And that’s just on offense.

This Sunday, Stafford gets his chance under the lights again. He’ll be wearing a foreign uniform, at least for those who love the Honolulu blue. Collinsworth will watch and analyze and opine from a deeper pool of knowledge.

Will any of it matter?

Stafford bet that it will. I’d bet that you won’t be look away and will probably low-key cheer for his success.

You’re a Detroiter, and Detroiters are like that. Besides, once the Lions’ losses begin to pile up — and they likely will — you’ll need another storyline to follow.

You’ll also want the answer to the most vexing question of our time: Is it the player? Or is it the uniform?

Matthew Stafford is (hopefully) ready to tell us.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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