With Another Year Slipping Away, Lions Again Letting Matthew Stafford Down

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterOctober 25, 2019

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - OCTOBER 20: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions looks on during the first half while playing the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field on October 20, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

On Sunday, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford became the fastest quarterback in NFL history to reach 40,000 passing yards. It's one of the greatest statistical achievements any athlete can have. And while Stafford's career is far more accomplished than you may know, it's also more complicated, too.

Stafford has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in seven of his last eight seasons and threw at least 20 touchdowns in all eight, yet he has not only failed to reach a Super Bowl, but he hasn't won a single playoff game.

Only 21 players have passed for at least 40,000 yards, and some of them are the biggest names in the history of the sport, including Johnny Unitas, Warren Moon, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Dan Marino, Joe Montana and John Elway. There are eight Hall of Famers in the 40K club, and Brady, Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are sure to join them one day.

The 40,000-yard mark represents two of the greatest qualities of a professional football player: production and longevity. When Stafford passed the mark, one league official (not with the Lions) texted that he deserves more respect than he gets, and the fact that he can put up those numbers while playing for the Lions is remarkable.

Translation: Stafford has prospered while quarterbacking one of the worst franchises in the modern history of the NFL.

This season has been no different. Once again, Stafford is carrying the Lions, playing gutsy, productive football. His 8.03 yards per pass attempt through Week 7 is the highest mark of his career.

Stafford is far from a perfect quarterback, but for a guy who hasn't missed a start since 2010 and has completed almost 63 percent of his passes over his career, a 68-78-1 mark as a starting QB indicates less about him than it does about the Lions. They have spent much of his career losing, losing some more and losing some more after that, too.

Matthew Stafford hasn't had an elite receiving option since Calvin Johnson retired after the 2015 season.
Matthew Stafford hasn't had an elite receiving option since Calvin Johnson retired after the 2015 season.Rick Osentoski/Associated Press/Associated Press

In short, he has become another cautionary tale of what happens when a franchise drafts a solid passer but fails to consistently put talent, solid coaching and a knowledgeable front office around him. And what we are left with is another example of a team totally failing its franchise quarterback.

Andrew Luck, who just retired from football, is perhaps the most recent exhibit of what happens when that cycle runs its full course. Stafford is another. Now in his 11th season, Stafford has reached the playoffs only three times, and none of those stays were long.

In all of that time, Stafford has had the chance to throw to only one great wide receiver in Calvin Johnson, who retired early. He has never played with a great running back, offensive line or defense. That's a lot of not-great talent.

The receivers who've caught the most passes from Stafford other than Johnson are Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., Brandon Pettigrew, Theo Riddick, Eric Ebron, Kenny Golladay, Nate Burleson, Joique Bell, Reggie Bush and Tony Scheffler. Not bad, but no one an opposing defensive coordinator is losing sleep over.

Stafford isn't Marino or Brady, but he's been solid enough that Detroit shouldn't be 2-3-1 this season. He's sixth in passing yards per game with 291.8. He has 13 passing touchdowns, which trails only Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan (each with 15) and Jacoby Brissett (14). And he has an excellent 101.7 passer rating, the best of his career.

It isn't that Lions haven't done anything right, but they are being outpaced in every way by their divisional rivals. The Packers practically rebuilt their entire defense in one offseason. The Vikings have one of the most talented offenses in football, and the drafting of players like running back Dalvin Cook has energized the franchise. The Bears made bold trades, like acquiring pass-rusher Khalil Mack.

Stafford has not received much help from an offensive line that has allowed him to be sacked more than 40 times in four of his last five seasons.
Stafford has not received much help from an offensive line that has allowed him to be sacked more than 40 times in four of his last five seasons.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

And then there are the Lions, whose defense ranks 31st in yards allowed per game (428.8), whose starting running back, Kerryon Johnson, averaged 3.3 yards per carry before being placed on injured reserve, and who rest in familiar territory in the NFC North—last.

Yet Stafford is still there, play after play, game after game. He's producing, balling out. Yes, he makes mistakes, but he does everything you want a QB to do in the NFL, and he does it all pretty well. His play has tried to mask the stench of a perennially putrid franchise that rarely can get out of its own way. 

Stafford has been one of the Lions' few bright spots. Emphasis on few.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.