Matthew Stafford is the best Lions QB ever. It still wasn’t enough, and it may never be.

Editor’s Note: This is an opinion piece by MLive.com reporter Kyle Meinke.

DETROIT – I called Dan Orlovsky last summer to get his opinion on a story I was writing about Matthew Stafford. The quarterback is good-natured and well-meaning and I love to talk to him, but also famously private. When doing a story about Matthew Stafford, it’s a good idea to have as much information as possible before you talk to him, because God knows he’s probably not going to tell it to you.

So I brought in Orlovsky, an excellent game analyst. He also happens to have been Stafford’s replacement for three years, which makes him particularly knowledgeable about what’s going on behind these walls at Allen Park. .

Then again, they’re good friends, so I didn’t really expect to hear Orlovsky issue such an unequivocal ultimatum.

“If they don’t win this year, no matter how he plays, he’s gone,” Orlovsky told me over the phone from his home in Connecticut. “I believe that.”

Well, the Lions have only won five games this season. They lost double-digit games for the third season in a row, finished dead last for a third straight season and offloaded their head coach and general manager along the way. More layoffs are inevitable in the coming days, and possibly even in the next few hours. This is the way it is when you lose in this league.

And the Lions have lost a long, long time ago.

It is seldom Stafford’s fault, and especially in his later years. He’s the easy target for fans and sports radio because he’s the quarterback, and apart from the owner’s last name and the long snapper, the one constant of all losers since 2009. But he doesn’t. There may not be an arm on this planet that could have saved the Lions from what they have become. They sniffed the franchise record for allowed yards last season, then actually broke the record in a 37-35 loss to Minnesota on Sunday in the 2020 final.

They also broke the team record for points allowed, an impressive 519. The only team to allow more points than Matt Patricia’s final defense was the 1981 Baltimore Colts. That’s it. This is the list of the 100 years of history of this league.

Detroit led two of their worst defenses on the field in consecutive seasons, topped Stafford with running games that never finished in the top 20, and then told him to try and make it work. No wonder it didn’t, as this formula wouldn’t have worked for almost anyone.

They just set a record for the most 40-point games allowed in a season. They allowed 6.3 yards per game, the worst in the league. They allowed 8.2 yards per pass, the worst in the league. They gave opposing quarterbacks a score of 112.4, the worst in the league for a whole season. It’s like taking on Aaron Rodgers every week. Who wins like that?

Stafford had perfect quarterback odds in the second quarter against Minnesota, and the Lions were still losing. He had near-perfect quarterback odds in the third quarter, and the Lions were losing even more. He had to be perfect. He wasn’t. They lost.

There is no better microcosm for the Matthew Stafford era than this. No more perfect ending, if it is that. And given his age, mileage, and contractual status, it just might come to this if the new regime heads for rebuilding.

“Obviously I can’t talk about the future,” Stafford said in a video chat after the loss. “I don’t think about it at the moment. Obviously disappointed not to have been able to win today. We fought hard. I have to give our team a lot of credit – played his ass. “

Stafford too. He was playing through a partially torn ligament in his throwing hand and torn cartilage in his ribs. He quit the previous game after rolling his ankle, and many fans asked him to just shut it down to protect commercial value and the draft position. Instead, he made a surprise appearance in training on Thursday, dressed again on Friday, and then gave an impassioned speech to the squad on Saturday night about the importance of playing until the final whistle. .

This organization let Matthew Stafford down because of all kinds of mismanagement, if not some, and Stafford still wasn’t about to abandon them, even with nothing to play but self-respect, city ​​and the game itself.

“He spoke to the team (Saturday) night,” said interim head coach Darrell Bevell. “Respect for the game, for history, for the guys who came before us. The guy puts everything on the line in a game he doesn’t need. I think that says a lot about him as a person, about him as a quarterback, about what he means to the team. I’m not going to sit here and tell you about him for a while, but I really appreciate what he has done for me and for this team.

Then Stafford went there against the Vikings, his throwing thumb wrapped in a bandage and his ribs wrapped in a skid plate and his ankle wrapped in medical grade duct tape, and completed eight of his first nine passes. for 150 yards and two touchdowns. One was a 43-meter teardrop to Marvin Jones running a post route to the right pylon, the other was a 20 meter laser towards Quintez Cephus crossing between two defenders. And the Lions lost 14-13.

An incomplete pass, and the Lions always lost.

Stafford added another touchdown pass to Jones, a 26-yarder, and pitched for 293 total yards. He finished with a passer rating of 114.0, his third highest rated game of the season. Despite these ribs and this hand. Despite the ankle that had hampered him all week. Although Mohamed Sanu dropped a 52-yard touchdown pass that Stafford placed in his lap while on the run. Although officials oddly knocked down a 38-yard touchdown pass to Jones despite the lack of a replay showing the ball had touched the turf.

He wasn’t perfect, also throwing one interception and almost another. But he was good enough to put in 35 points on the board, which is usually good enough to win. The teams that have scored so much in regulation this season have gone 73-5. But it wasn’t good enough for Detroit. Not for this poorly constructed team.

We’ve been shooting and shooting for 12 years.

Stafford is the only thing that stands between the Lions and the historical embarrassment. They lost all eight games without him last year and rushed out of the building without him against Tampa this year. He is not part of the problem. But after 12 years, we have to legitimately ask ourselves whether it should also be part of the solution. The Lions are in so much need that it could be years before they are competitive again, and Stafford will be 33 next month, has plenty of mileage and will have another huge contract soon. His arc might not be another type of all-purpose rebuild. Its best value might just be that of a commercial chip, which could speed up the likely reboot.

As Orlovsky said, “If they don’t win this year, no matter how he plays, he’s gone.”

“I understand it from both points of view,” Orlovsky continued. “I can understand from his point of view – ‘I want to come out, I want my good play to translate into more wins.’ But I can also understand from a franchise perspective, that at some point you have to say, “It just didn’t work.” We did this for a dozen years, and it didn’t work. just didn’t work It didn’t happen.

And he beat that drum again a few minutes after the end of the season.

Asked about Orlovsky’s comments, Stafford said: “I really don’t pay too much attention. I’m just going to go about my business and go about my daily business and I’m trying to help this team win. All of those kinds of things, in my mind, will sort themselves out and we’ll go from there. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I know Dan well, he’s a good friend of mine, but for me, (I) don’t pay too much attention to him.

Fair enough. Stafford never said much, perhaps to his own detriment, and he wasn’t about to take a power play now. He loves this team. He bled for this team, this city, unlike almost every quarterback in football history. This organization let him down with bad coaches and insane draft picks that loaded him with a running game that has already gone on for 70 straight games without a 100-yard rush – just two short of everyone’s record. the times – and a defense that just made history after almost making history the year before. Yet he played, once 136 consecutive starts while playing on an ankle injury, quad injury, hip injury, rib injury, hand injury, knee injury and injury. on the back and, well, you see the picture. Only six quarterbacks have started more games in a row than him.

Stafford is one of the toughest quarterbacks of all time. He is also by far the best Lions quarterback of the modern era. And he continued to play despite the injuries, and continued to play well, until the very last whistle – and it still wasn’t enough.

With that, it may never be.

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