Football is a game centered around toughness. Teammates and coaches respect it. Fans love it. Players themselves are determined to show it.
Matthew Stafford is one tough dude. He proved as much last Sunday when he willed the Lions to a comeback 38-37 win, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass with a separated AC joint.
During the game, Stafford was wired for sound and was quoted as saying, "I can throw the ball if you need me to throw the ball."
It was courageous and the type of moment that can endear a quarterback to a city. Particularly a self proclaimed blue collar town such as Detroit.
Thursday, Stafford's desire to show his toughness costs Detroit a chance to win a football game. He should not have played. Jim Schwartz said all week that Stafford was "unlikely" to play. Stafford himself sat out every practice.
Why did he start?
Was it to show he was tough? Was it for the national television audience and Detroit's fear of ultimately losing its one day in the national spotlight? Was it because the Lions coaching staff feels that Stafford at 50 percent is better than the next guy at 100 percent?
I do not know why he played.
I know that he was hurt. Everyone saw it. The Green Bay Packers exposed it. Stafford's shoulder was so injured he couldn't not step into any of his throws. Almost every pass was thrown of his back foot or with him fading to one side.
All four of his interceptions were. So were the other two balls that should have easily been picked off.
By the way, the Lions lost the game 34-12. Their sixth straight loss on Thanksgiving Day.
Schwartz is clearly still wet behind the ears as an NFL head coach. But one thing that hasn't been questioned by anyone, especially not me, is his intelligence.
Thursday was a terrible lack of judgement on Schwartz's part. As a matter of fact, it was utterly incompetent. By the end of the first quarter, everyone in the stadium and watching at home should have been able to see that Stafford just wasn't right.
Duante Culpepper saw it. He was also seen in a heated argument with Lions general manager Martin Mayhew. Culpepper knows he's not the starter, but he also has enough pride to know that he's better than a rookie quarterback with a destroyed shoulder.
The Lions could have won this game. Green Bay did not play well at all. The only reason the score was close at halftime, 13-7, was because the Packers were a bad enough football team to allow it to be.
Stafford has already gotten his feet wet and experienced both success and failure in the NFL, albeit primarily failure. The guy has talent and I'm convinced he's going to be around a long time. He does not need to play another snap this season, especially if he's not 100 percent healthy.
Toughness often conflicts with intelligence. And virtually every player in the NFL is tougher than they are smart. It shouldn't be up to Stafford whether or not he feels well enough to play. The Lions as an organization need to step in and decide what's best for the franchise.
Stafford has the rest of his career to play and make a name for himself, and hopefully that career takes place entirely in Detroit. But for right now, he needs to sit.
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