NFL Winners and Losers: Time to place Matthew Stafford among NFL’s best

  25 Oct 2016

 

Matthew Stafford continued his breakout season in Week 7, this time leading the Lions to a comeback win as he spun some magic on his team’s final drive and found Anquan Boldin for the game-winner.

It only seems like Matthew Stafford has been quarterback of the Detroit Lions forever. [restrict]

Stafford is still fairly young. He’s 28. Sunday’s game was his 100th NFL start. We expect instant results from our quarterbacks, but players are still allowed to improve at age 28.

Stafford has improved, and it’s about time we place Stafford in one of the NFL’s top quarterback tiers. He has played very well for almost a full calendar year, and he led yet another comeback win on Sunday. His rapid improvement couldn’t have come at a better time for the Lions, who lost future Hall-of-Fame receiver Calvin Johnson to retirement this past offseason. It’s Stafford’s team now, and he has responded well to that.

The Lions are on a three-game winning streak and Stafford is the biggest reason. He has eight touchdowns and no interceptions during this win streak. And on Sunday he had another late-game drive to get the Lions a big 20-17 win.

The Lions took over at their own 25 with 1:05 to play. Stafford hit Marvin Jones for 23 yards, he ran for 14 and then found Andre Roberts for 20 more. The Lions faced third-and-10 after that, but Stafford fired a fastball to Anquan Boldin for an 18-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left.

Stafford has always been good under pressure late in games. Sunday was his 21st time leading a fourth-quarter comeback win, according to pro-football-reference.com. That’s tied for 20th in NFL history. He has 23 game-winning drives since 2011, three more than any other quarterback in that time, according to NFL Research. Stafford has led a game-winning drive in all four Lions wins this season.

What has changed is Stafford is becoming more reliable for all 60 minutes, not just a frenetic drive at the end. He has cut down significantly on his mistakes. He has just four interceptions this season, and two came during a bad game against the Chicago Bears. That was Stafford’s only multi-interception game since last Nov. 1. In his last 15 games, Stafford has 4,093 yards, 34 touchdowns and six interceptions. Those numbers put him among the best quarterbacks in the league. That’s not debatable.

What has been even more impressive about Stafford’s latest hot streak is he is carrying the offense. The running game is a mess, with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick out with injuries. Tight end Eric Ebron is an important piece to the offense because the Lions can use him in various ways, and he has missed two games in a row. It hasn’t mattered for Stafford.

The Lions roster, especially the past couple weeks with some injuries, doesn’t look like it belongs to a playoff contender. But Stafford is doing his best to make the Lions a contender.

At one point, Stafford and Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler were considered to be practically the same player. They were both quarterbacks with big arms (and big contracts) who never seemed like they could eliminate killer mistakes, which often happened because of sloppy mechanics. Their paths have gone in much different directions. The Bears seem to be done with Cutler, who is injured. The Lions are far from done with Stafford. What they should see from Stafford at this point is a franchise quarterback who is only 28 years old. That’s hard to come by in the NFL. [/restrict]