All optimism completely deflated for the Detroit Lions.
A new low was hit after an embarrassing Week 15 road loss. The Lions walked into University of Phoenix Stadium favored to defeat the Arizona Cardinals. They're now heading home humiliated after a 38-10 loss.
Now with a 4-10 record, the only thing worth paying attention to is wide receiver Calvin Johnson's pursuit of breaking Jerry Rice's single-season receiving yards record. He currently is 181 yards shy of rewriting history.
Every player outside of Megatron deserves blame for the team's regression, including his quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Stafford began 2012 on a rocky path of interceptions, inaccuracy and not enough touchdowns. More than halfway through the season, not much has changed.
Stafford has thrown for 4,252 yards with only 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The 24-year-old also became the second-fastest quarterback to throw for 10,000 yards in a career.
Hearing an accomplishment like that and seeing his yard total this year might paint a more optimistic picture than reality. Stafford deserves a chunk of blame for this week's loss after tossing three interceptions. Also considering his inconsistent play all year, Stafford is part of the blame for the Lions' pathetic season.
It's very easy to look at the team's health and mental meltdowns as a way to excuse Stafford and explain the team's demise.
The Lions are currently without receiver Nate Burleson (leg), rookie Ryan Broyles (knee) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) due to injury. The Titus Young debacle has been well-documented since the beginning of training camp.
With all these players gone, the Lions have reached for low-end replacements like Kris Durham, Brian Robiskie and Mike Thomas. They haven't accounted for much production and struggle to get open against defensive backs.
Stafford also has had to deal with dropped passes, an inconsistent offensive line and predictable play-calling from offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
But even with all these roadblocks in Stafford's way, he still has been a part of the problem.
Does Matthew Stafford Deserve Blame For This Season?
In today's NFL, measuring a quarterback by passing yards doesn't paint the proper picture. Passing yards are the most overrated statistic in football, and Stafford has thrown a high, yet hollow number of them.
Stafford has thrown for a high number of yards with only 17 touchdowns and completing only 59 percent of those passes. He's also on pace to break the NFL record of pass attempts in one season. With that much control of the offense, you must be more efficient and productive with the football.
When ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski ranked Stafford No. 14 in his quarterback rankings, it drew plenty of negative uproar. Myself included believed Stafford deserved more respect in his rankings and was allowed a pass for his early season struggles.
Fast forwarding to this point of the season, Stafford deserves his place on that list.
Given his talent, he has to be better on the field. Even with the down-spiral of the Lions this season, you look for the captain to be a leader and help weather the storm. Stafford hasn't been that leader and hasn't produced up to his capability.
Remember each year quarterback Eli Manning lost a big receiver like Plaxico Burress and people questioned how he would manage without them. Manning never lost a step and has delivered two Super Bowls for the Giants.
If Stafford and fans want to hold him to the elite-level standard, he must play like it on a consistent basis. Stafford can't receive a high amount of praise for throwing 41 touchdowns and not be held accountable when that number is significantly down. Another 5,000 yard and 40+ touchdown season wasn't needed for another great year, but the level he's currently at isn't acceptable.
Detroit needs the best from Stafford on a weekly basis. The state of this franchise will only go as far as he takes them. Will he help push for a consistent playoff or Super Bowl-run like Tom Brady? Or stuff his stats with hollow numbers like Tony Romo? Too soon to compare him to either, but not too soon or unfair to blame Stafford as well with his team.