Sunday brings a new era for the Detroit Lions, as quarterback Jared Goff, acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in the offseason trade of Matthew Stafford, will throw his first regular-season pass in Honolulu Blue.
Sunday will also bring reminders of an old era, as the Lions open their 30th season since the franchise’s last playoff victory, a 38-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys at the Pontiac Silverdome on Jan. 5, 1992, in the NFC divisional round.
Goff is doing his best to focus on the future, rather than that ignoble playoff drought (the second-longest active streak behind the Cincinnati Bengals, whose last playoff win came Jan. 6, 1991).
“Just like every other team in this league, there’s expectations, and I don’t know what the stat is, but every year there’s new teams in the playoff,” the QB said in August. “Every year there’s teams that were in the playoffs last year that aren’t and why not us? Why can’t we be that one that wasn’t in last year that is this year?”
PREDICTING EVERY GAME: Wins hard to find on difficult schedule
Rather than answer that question we’ll note this: In the 29 seasons between that January 1992 playoff win and Sunday’s opener against the San Francisco 49ers at Ford Field, 45 players have attempted a pass for the Lions, to varying degrees of effectiveness. We ranked all 45, from the second-rounder whose only pass went for a TD (for the other team) to the punter who went 2-for-2 in a single game to the pride of Ypsilanti, all the way up to No. 1 (though you can probably already guess who he is).
Maybe Goff will be the one to snap the playoff skid. But until then, let’s see the acts he’s following from the past 29 years.
THE POSITIONS: Strength on offense lies in star-studded line
45. Matt Blundin
Blundin was a quarterback, and a well-regarded one at some point, as he wasdrafted in the second round (No. 40 overall) out of Virginia by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1992. After two appearances in 1993-94 (in which he was 2-for-8 for 15 yards and an interception), he landed with the Lions for 1997 as the No. 3 QB. His lone game action came Nov. 9 in Washington in which almost nothing went right for Lions QBs. Starter Scott Mitchell departed in the second quarter with a pulled hamstring (though his 5-for-14 performance wasn’t inspiring). Backup Frank Reich wasn’t much better at 10-for-28 with two picks before a hard hit numbed his arm. And so, in came Blundin on third-and-20. Blundin was hit as he threw, and the ball fluttered to cornerback Darryl Pounds, who took it 22 yards for Washington’s final score. That was it for Blundin: One pass, one interception, one TD.
44. Lamont Warren
Warren had six seasons as a running back with the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots when he joined the Lions for 2001, and so, of course the Lions had him attempt a pass in two games. The first, on Nov. 4 on the road against the 49ers, fell incomplete in the first quarter. And yet, for some reason, first-year coach Marty Mornhinweg thought it was a good idea to try again down 17-0 with 2:29 left in the third quarter on Dec. 30 against Chicago. On second-and-10 from the Bears’ 20, Warren took the handoff and fired the ball toward Bert Emanuel in the end zone. Bears cornerback Mike Brown caught it instead (though at least he didn’t return it for a TD). “We thought we could get it,” Mornhinweg said. “We had a couple great clips of film where they were overaggressive down in that area, and we thought we could get it. It was as simple as that … at the time I thought it was a good time to call that (play).”
T34. Jamal Agnew, Jahvid Best, Bruce Ellington, Nick Harris, John Jett, Stefan Logan, Brett Perriman, Bill Schroeder, James Stewart, Roy Williams
That’s 10 more Lions — four running backs (Agnew, Best, Logan and Stewart), four receivers (Ellington, Perriman, Schroeder and Williams) and two punters (Harris and Jett) — who each attempted one pass, with no completions. At least none threw an interception.
33. Barry Sanders
Sanders is the only Hall of Famer on this list, thanks to his 15,269 rushing yards, good for fourth all time. As a passer he was 1-for-4 for 11 yards and an interception. Sanders’ first pass attempt came in a Dec. 6 loss in Green Bay on a botched play that included an Andre Ware fumble. Pass No. 2 came early in the second quarter against the Bears on Dec. 4, 1995, an option pass call that didn’t connect with Johnnie Morton while up 14-0 on Monday Night Football.
Less than three weeks later — on Dec. 23 on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Sanders connected with Morton for 11 yards late in the third quarter, up 24-3. Sanders’ nascent throwing career ended on Thanksgiving 1996, against the Chiefs at the Silverdome; with the game tied at 14 in the second, Sanders took a halfback pass after the Lions had driven 66 yards to K.C.’s 25. But Sanders’ lob to Brett Perriman was picked off in the end zone by safety Mark Collins.
“At that point — and even Barry talked about it — I don’t know if we even needed it,” teammate Herman Moore said. “We were moving the ball so effectively, we were mixing up the run and the pass. We really didn’t need any trick plays or gadgets. I’m sure that’s one we’d like to have back.”
32. Drew Henson
Welcome to the only NFL ranking ever to put Henson ahead of Sanders. The Brighton High and Michigan Wolverines star, after a short experiment with pro baseball, landed with the Lions during their winless 2008 campaign. He went 1-for-2 for 20 yards and connecting on a deep throw to Calvin Johnson late in the fourth quarter of a 47-10 loss to Tennessee. In all, he took as many sacks in his Lions career — three — as passes attempted: Two against the Titans and then one to end a 20-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings the next week.
31. Mark Royals
Say this for the Lions’ punter: It wasn’t his fault. On a second-quarter field-goal attempt against the Vikings in the Lions’ opener Sept. 1, 1996, a bad snap from the 30-yard line forced Royals to improvise a pass to tight end David Sloan … complete, for a loss of 8 yards. (Adding insult to whatever, Sloan fumbled and Royals recovered.) Still, we’ll put Royals fourth among the four Lions to go 1-for-1 in their careers.
30. Az-Zahir Hakim
The former Rams receiver was in his second season as a Lion in 2003 when new coach Steve Mariucci called for an option pass midway through the second quarter in Week 5 against the 49ers on the road. Hakim found Charles Rogers for 21 yards and a first down at the Niners’ 33. The drive led to a field goal, and the Lions lost, making it like a lot of other passes thrown by the QBs on this list.
29. Matt Prater
The 2018 season didn’t have a lot of good moments for the Lions, but it did close out with a 31-0 drubbing of the Packers at Lambeau Field. The rout was punctuated early in the second quarter when Prater, normally the Lions’ kicker, lofted an 8-yard pass on fourth-and-3 to backup tight end Levine Toilolo for a touchdown. How does a kicker get the ball in his hands? Prater mimicked measuring the steps for a field goal, then received a direct snap from Don Muhlbach and found Toilolo, who himself had faked subbing out of the game. “I almost dropped it,” Prater said. “Threw it up a little too high, but Levine made a good catch.”
28. Danny Amendola
Another miserable season, another December finale against the Packers, another trick play. This time, it was Amendola, a wide receiver, getting the ball about seven minutes into the first quarter on an end-around pitch as quarterback David Blough sprinted for the end zone. Amendola’s throw found Blough on the Packers’ 5 and he walked in for the 19-yard TD. (Watch it here.) The only pass Amendola threw as a Lion (though he also had completions as a Patriot and a Dolphin) gave him a perfect 158.3 passer rating, making him the only Lion on this list to hit that mark.
27. Sam Martin
Martin, the Lions’ punter from 2013-19, ranks as the top non-QB on the strength of his 2-for-2 line, accounting for 27 yards. Somehow, both completions came in the same game, a Nov. 9, 2014, victory over the Dolphins at Ford Field. Martin’s breakout performance started less than 5 minutes into the game, as he found fullback Jed Collins on a soft toss on fourth-and-6 from the Lions’ 45; Collns did most of the work to pick up 24 yards. Martin’s next attempt came about 5 minutes into the second quarter, on fourth-and-5 from the Dolphins’ 41. It … was not as successful, as Martin found nominal gunner Isa Abdul-Quddus with a bad throw to gain 3 yards.
Afterward, the punter blamed the ball: “It’s hard throwing K balls because the first time they’re thrown or kicked is in the game,” Martin said. “Those are brand-new balls 45 minutes before the game. The grip wasn’t too good on the first one. The grip was even worse on the second one. I almost like shot-putted that one because I had no grip on that. I don’t have big hands. That one wasn’t as good.”
26. Ty Detmer
Detmer started four times for the Lions in 2001. In the final three, he posted a ho-hum line of 70-for-109 passing, 694 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. His start Sept. 23 in Cleveland, though … well, that’s the one that lands him here: 22-for-42 for 212 yards, one touchdown and seven interceptions. (Though it wasn’t an NFL record — that belongs to the Chicago Cardinals’ Jim Hardy, who threw eight picks vs. the Philadelphia Eagles in 1950 — or even a Lions record — Detmer merely tied Frank Sinkwich, who had seven against the Packers on Oct 24, 1943.) The times of the picks: 2:14 left in the second quarter, 0:00 left in the second, 12:36 left in the third, 4:44 left in the third, 2:55 left in the third, 5:53 left in the fourth and 3:28 left in the fourth.
25. Matt Cassel
The veteran QB — a former Patriot, of course — signed to provide a solid backup for Stafford in 2018. The good news for the Lions: He appeared in only two games. The bad news: He was not actually good. Cassel attempted six passes in mostly mop-up duty during a season-opening flop against the Jets on Monday Night Football, completing two to Lions receivers for 14 yards and one to Jets safety Jamal Adams, who returned it 38 yards. Cassel’s other appearance came in the next-to-last game of the season — mop-up duty again — a 27-9 loss to the Vikings. He attempted 11 passes and completed five, though at least they were all to Lions. He also took a brutal sack. In all, His Lions career amounted to 7-for-17 passing for 59 yards, an interception and a passer rating of 26.3.
24. Jake Rudock
A sixth-round pick out of Michigan in 2016, Rudock was the next Tom Brady … until he wasn’t, on Dec. 3, 2017. Entering the game for Stafford (who had a badly bruised throwing hand) in the fourth quarter of a rout by the Ravens in Baltimore, he completed his first three passes. That was followed by an incompletion and a pass for a first down — which was called back for holding. On the next play, Rudock threw a pick-six.
23. J.T. O’Sullivan
When Jon Kitna was knocked out — literally, as he was pulled with signs of a brain injury in the second quarter — against the Vikings on Sept. 17, 2007, O’Sullivan went 13-for-24 for 148 yards, a TD, two interceptions and a fumble returned for a touchdown. He got two more series before the Lions went back to Kitna in the fourth quarter (and won, somehow).
22. Daunte Culpepper
Reduced to a shadow of his Vikings greatness by multiple injuries, Culpepper completed 58.8% of his attempts, for 1,731 yards, seven TDs and 12 interceptions over 13 games in 2008-09. And, of course, the most damning stat: 0-10 as a starter (with three more losses in relief).
21. Mike McMahon
The Lions gave the Rutgers product (a fifth-round pick) three starts in 2001 to win the top job; he completed 46.9% of his passes for 524 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, making the decision to draft Joey Harrington with the No. 3 overall pick in 2002 fairly easy. McMahon then completed just 42.2% of his passes (with 874 yards, seven TDs and nine picks) in eight appearances in 2002.
20. Stoney Case
The last quarterback to throw a pass for the Lions in the pre-Matt Millen era, Case had a touchdown and four interceptions scattered among 91 pass attempts over five games. His final turnover was his worst: a fumble at midfield (on a sack) late on Christmas Eve 2000 to set up the Bears’ winning field goal that knocked the Lions out of a playoff spot.
19. David Blough
No playoff drama, just five starts as a rookie in 2019 in relief of an injured Stafford — in which he completed 54% of his attempts for 984 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions — followed by a meaningless 6-for-10 relief appearance in 2020. Blough is 100-for-184 for 1,033 yards, four touchdowns and seven interceptions … and the Lions’ backup QB for the first few games of 2021, thanks to Tim Boyle’s preseason thumb injury.
18. Jeff Driskel
A four-year vet, he started three games in the middle of the 2019 season and passed for 478 yards and three touchdowns in the first two. Three interceptions in a loss to Washington on Nov. 24 meant he wasn’t missed much when he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury.
17. Chase Daniel
In case you weren’t thinking of raising your kid to be a backup NFL QB, Daniel made about $3.5 million from the Lions in 2020 to complete 29 of 43 passes for 264 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions over four games. He’s in L.A., too now, but with the Chargers.
16. Andre Ware
The only Heisman winner on the list — sorry, Joey! — Ware was selected by the Lions at No. 7 overall in 1990. He appeared in nine games (five starts) in 1992-93 and put up 948 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions, or about what his University of Houston squad used to do over six quarters in the pure run-and-shoot offense.
15. Jeff Garcia
His first regular-season game as a Lion was a win, which is more than you can say for most Lions QBs. But the next five were losses; he topped 200 passing yards once, and that was in that first start, which didn’t feature a TD. He finished the year going 102-for-173 for 937 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions.
14. Don Majkowski
It was more relief appearances than starring turns, but “The Majik Man” had his moments, such as his Nov. 19, 1995 game in which he completed 15 of 19 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, while subbing for an injured Mitchell, with a humble quote afterward: “I just get them the ball and let them do the work.” He finished with a 57.4% completion percentage, 715 yards, four touchdowns and three inceptions over 10 appearances.
13. Frank Reich
A career backup, including his final two seasons with the Lions, Reich strung together three solid games at the end of 1998, completing 51 of 90 attempts for 624 yards, five TDs and four interceptions. They were all losses, but with the Lions, that’s more of a feature than a bug.
12. Drew Stanton
The homegrown hope, Stanton arrived from Farmington Hills Harrison and then Michigan State as a second-round pick in 2007, got into three games in 2008, was mostly awful in 2009 — with no touchdowns and six interceptions in 51 pass attempts — and then showed enough filling in for an injured Stafford in 2010 — 58% completion percentage, 780 yards, four TDs and three picks in six games — to carve out a career as a longtime backup. The Lions could’ve had worse, and, as we’ve seen, frequently did.
11. Joey Harrington
The Joey error, er, era, only lasted four seasons, even if it felt much, much longer. In 58 games (55 starts), Harrington threw for 10,242 yards and 60 touchdowns, both of which are third among his peers on this list. Why so low then? Well, there were the 62 interceptions, his 54.7% completion percentage and 18-40 record. Then again, that’s not all his fault, as the 2002 No. 3 overall pick pointed out in a 2006 interview with the Freep: “Yeah, I didn’t play well all the time, but nobody on that team did.”
10. Dan Orlovsky
The embarrassing sprint along the back of the end zone for a safety in 2008 is the lasting memory, but Orlovsky put in two solid stints as a backup and his 10-game run in 2008 was respectable — 1,616 yards, eight TDs, eight INTs —despite an 0-7 record in his starts.
9. Jon Kitna
Kitna arrived as a free agent from Cincinnati the same season — 2006 — as offensive coordinator Mike Martz, which goes a long way to explaining his 727 completions (in 1,127 attempts) and 8,276 passing yards in 2006-07. But that raw yardage translated into too few points — 39 TDs — and too many interceptions (42), even before Martz departed before 2008 and Kitna’s production dropped by a quarter.
8. Rodney Peete
Peete was the Lions’ starting QB for the first half of the 1991 season before tearing his Achilles tendon and missing the Lions’ only playoff victory since 1957; healthy for the start of the 1992 season, he spent two seasons battling Ware and Erik Kramer for the starting job. Peete piled up the yards (3,372) in his 20 appearances and completed better than 60% of his passes, but 23 interceptions (and only 15 touchdowns) were a killer, as were 62 sacks.
7. Charlie Batch
The Lions’ second-round pick in 1998 — easily the top offensive player ever to come out of EMU — appeared in 48 games (all but two of them starts) and finished with 9,016 yards passing with 49 touchdowns and 40 interceptions. His biggest crime: Not being mobile enough — with 147 sacks as a Lion — to run the West Coast offense desired by GM Matt Millen and coach Marth Mornhinweg.
6. Gus Frerotte
The Lions signed Frerotte to a three-year deal to back up Batch in his second season. When Batch went down in Week 9 in 1999 with a shoulder injury, Frerotte stepped in and led the Lions to three wins in his first five games. He finished the season — which ended with the Lions’ final playoff berth for more than a decade — having completed 60.7% of his passes for 2,117 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. Frerotte promptly exercised an opt-out and left for Denver.
5. Erik Kramer
After a multi-season stint in the CFL, Kramer led the Lions to the playoffs (and that playoff win over the Cowboys) in 1991 by passing for 1,635 yards, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 13 games (eight starts). Over the following two seasons, while jostling with Ware and Peete, Kramer never found a groove, completing 59.4% of his passes for 1,773 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 picks in 1992-93.
4. Shaun Hill
Stafford’s injuries in 2009 (and his backups’ struggles) inspired the Lions to sign Hill as an insurance policy for 2010. And when Stafford went down with a shoulder injury just before halftime in the season opener, it proved prescient. Hill nearly engineered a final-drive comeback in Chicago, only to have a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson waved off for failing to complete … well, you know. In his final 12 appearances (10 starts), Hill passed for 2,598 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, with four wins as a starter.
3. Scott Mitchell
Mitchell’s tenure didn’t live up to the expectations (off seven career starts in Miami) of his eight-year, $11.1 million contract — coach Wayne Fontes dropped “Super Bowl” from the first day: “This guy, hopefully, is the missing piece that will one day take the Detroit Lions to the Super Bowl. … We’ve made a commitment; This is the quarterback that will lead the Lions, hopefully, for the next eight years.” Mitchell only lasted parts of five seasons, riding the bench in his final year in Detroit until new coach Bobby Ross shipped him to the Ravens in 1999. But before that brutal breakup (accelerated by a sideline blowup in the 1998 finale), Mitchell had one outstanding season — 1995, when he threw for 4,338 yards (with a 59.3% completion rate), 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions — and three OK years, in which he completed 55.8% and averaged 2,619 yards, 15.3 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
2. Dave Krieg
“Him? The fumble guy?” you ask. Yes, Krieg, the journeyman QB who held the NFL record for fumbles for much of the later part of his career, caught fire for eight games after Mitchell broke his hand on Nov. 6, 1994 in Milwaukee against the Packers. Krieg entered the game, fumbled on his first play — his only fumble lost as a Lion — and then completed 23 of 33 passes for 275 yard and three touchdowns against the Pack. Over seven starts to finish the season, he completed 60.3% for 1,354 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions as the Lions closed at 5-2 and nabbed a playoff berth. (They lost to the Packers, 16-12, when Sanders was held to minus-1 yard rushing. After the loss, Krieg summed up
being a Lions quarterback the result succinctly: “I feel very depressed and very disappointed.”)
1. Matthew Stafford
Who were you expecting? Stafford holds the franchise record in nearly every passing category, including attempts (6,224), completions (3,898), yards (45,109) and touchdowns (282), and his totals are better than the three quarterbacks behind him, combined.