Don’t be fooled: Matthew Stafford didn’t escape Detroit Lions, he was part of the problem

Detroit Free Press

Ladies and gentlemen, ready or not, welcome to Matthew Stafford Week.

It might not be as entertaining as Shark Week on Animal Planet, but it’s going to be close.

And probably just as gory.

The Detroit Lions will go to Los Angeles on Sunday to play against the Rams — OK, all we really care about is they are playing Stafford — in a reunion that promises to be an epic annihilation. Stafford is going to demolish the Lions.

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Maybe, not out of spite.

Maybe, not out of anger — he did get out as he wanted.

But mostly, because he can.

This is going to be like a recently divorced guy who shows up at a class reunion with his new, incredibly hot girlfriend; and he just stands there and smiles, as the Rams roll to a win.

Seeing Stafford demolish the Lions will bring his fans incredible joy.

Other Stafford lovers will think: Yep, just stick it to the Fords.

The national media will create a nonsense narrative this week, suggesting that Stafford has escaped from Detroit. Nothing could be further from the truth. Stafford played a role in Detroit’s struggles. He wasn’t held hostage. He was part of the problem.

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For me, this week is going to create a bunch of nostalgia about the good old days when the Lions won games they shouldn’t and were firmly stuck in mediocrity.

To celebrate this upcoming reunion, as if to amplify the point of what this team is missing, the winless Lions played a horrendous offensive football game on Sunday against the Cincinnati, getting creamed, 34-11.

Jared Goff, the Lions’ placeholder of a quarterback, played an atrocious game.

“I feel like he needs to step up more than he has,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “And I think he needs to help us.”

It was the kind of game that could make you think: Man, I miss Stafford.

But I don’t.

I still say trading Stafford was the right thing to do in the long-term.

Even if it plays a role in short-term pain like Sunday.

Because the Lions didn’t win a championship with Stafford. He played with unquestioned toughness. He was a respectable face of the franchise and he did great things in the community.

But he couldn’t put them over the top.

And it was time to tear this down to the foundation and start a rebuild.

Even if a rebuild will bring you days like Sunday.

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Would he have mattered this season?

I believe the Lions would have beaten the Baltimore Ravens and the Minnesota Vikings if they had Stafford. If they lost by a field goal with Goff at quarterback, I’m confident they would have won with Stafford.

Shoot, they might have beaten the Bengals, too, with how the Lions defense played in the first half. That would make them 3-3. Which seems fitting. Mediocrity was Stafford’s legacy in Detroit.

Then I start to waver. Stafford wasn’t a miracle worker. And this team has a serious lack of talent. The offensive line, which was supposed to be the team’s strength, was without injured center Frank Ragnow and left tackle Taylor Decker on Sunday.

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The running game hasn’t materialized like they hoped.

And the wide receivers?

After injuries to Quintez Cephus and Tyrell Williams, I don’t even know who the Lions have at wideout anymore.

They Lions are playing offense with smoke and mirrors, even if they are using nothing but broken mirrors.

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Next man … up?

To this point, the only encouraging part of this team has been its fight and resolve.

But the Lions had none of that on Sunday, which seriously, and rightfully, ticked off Campbell.

“We got whipped,” Campbell said. “The focus wasn’t there.”

For the most part, his team has been competitive under Campbell.

But it wasn’t on Sunday.

“This was a beatdown,” Campbell said.

Campbell is incredibly likable, if only because he is so honest, but he does deserve part of the blame. This team didn’t look prepared. And it certainly wasn’t focused.

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“When you get whipped like that, that’s on me,” Campbell said. “There’s no other way around that.”

Personally, I think that’s a simplified explanation.

Yes, they played horrible.

But they were also outmanned.

After a rash of injuries, this game showed how little depth this team has. This team is not going to be competitive next year, either. It’s going to take time. Because this team has more holes than parts; it has more questions than answers.

Which should make this reunion with Stafford so interesting.

Seeing him on the field again, might make you nostalgic.

Longing for the days of mediocrity.

But it will also underscore another point: This is why they traded him.

Because this team just isn’t that good.

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Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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