ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Matthew Stafford gathered his workforce in a huddle earlier than their Week 17 sport in opposition to Minnesota, doing what he’d accomplished so usually earlier than in his profession with the Detroit Lions. As he did, it’s not clear if he knew then that this may seemingly be his final sport in Detroit.
“No matter you bought left within the f—- tank at the moment, let’s go,” Stafford mentioned in a video revealed in a while the workforce web site.
QB Matthew Stafford urges on his teammates in Week 17 pic.twitter.com/3c4Qx7e
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) Jan. 3, 2021
It felt like that’s simply what Stafford did in Detroit — he made the Lions aggressive. Each sport, each season, he gave Detroit every thing he had. You noticed it in his battered physique, with busted-up fingers and damaged backs and bruised ribs and massively taped ankles.
Stafford simply needed to play.
How he dealt with Week 17, enjoying by means of accidents to his ribs, thumb and ankle maybe ought to have been a clue it may have been the top. Similar together with his a number of embraces with Marvin Jones, an unrestricted free agent, and hugs on the sideline.
In some ways, the sport epitomized what Stafford had all the time accomplished for the group. He tried to play whether or not he was damage or the workforce was shedding or when it felt like he was the one factor holding the workforce collectively.
Stafford reworked in Detroit. He got here in because the No. 1 general decide combating by means of accidents in his first two seasons and have become one of many league’s most sturdy, reliable quarterbacks. He got here right into a franchise that had gone 0-16 the yr earlier than and relied solely on All-Professional extensive receiver Calvin Johnson for fulfillment.
He leaves the Lions as the most effective at his place in franchise historical past and with a workforce that clearly had turn into his over the past six years. He set NFL data for the quickest quarterback to succeed in 15,000, 20,000, 25,000, 30,000 and 40,000 yards. He set virtually each franchise report for a quarterback, too.
When he retires, his title will undoubtedly find yourself plastered with different Lions legends inside Ford Subject.
It’s virtually laborious to recollect a time at this level with out Stafford. And so usually he was underappreciated in Detroit for his sturdiness and his ability. The Lions didn’t win as a lot as they might have appreciated with him, however far too usually that was not his fault.
Too usually, Detroit had subpar working video games and porous defenses to be complimentary to what he may carry offensively. But it nonetheless felt like with Stafford, even when the workforce had holes in so many different locations, Detroit had an opportunity.
“You play this sport to go on the market and play in big-time moments and we didn’t do a adequate job this yr as a workforce to ensure that we now have these alternatives this late within the season,” Stafford mentioned earlier than the season finale in opposition to Minnesota. “That’s clearly disappointing and one thing you need to rectify as a participant, as a teammate, as part of a company.”
His need to play in big-time video games hardly ever materialized into precise success. He made the playoffs thrice, shedding all three wild-card video games. The final three seasons in Detroit, below Matt Patricia, the franchise wasn’t even near the big-time.
For thus lengthy Stafford had been the quarterback who had mentioned the precise issues and by no means complained, by no means questioned and all the time mentioned he needed to be in Detroit. To win in Detroit. And he meant it, too. He performed by means of three head coaches — Jim Schwartz, Jim Caldwell and Patricia — and 4 offensive coordinators — Scott Linehan, Joe Lombardi, Jim Bob Cooter and Bevell.
He turned from a deep-ball gunslinger to a quarterback finishing 64 % or extra of his passes every of the previous six seasons. He holds each essential passing report in franchise historical past and have become one of many sport’s greatest comeback leaders.
When Johnson retired after the 2015 season, Stafford received higher. He unfold the ball round to different gifted pass-catchers — Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay and T.J. Hockenson. He discovered a method to distribute higher and turn into extra constant.
As those that he got here in with and performed with for thus lengthy — Johnson, Nate Burleson, Dominic Raiola, Rob Sims — retired, Stafford and long-snapper Don Muhlbach turned the veteran voices.
It was extra than simply the gamers. Stafford and his household created connections all through Detroit. Every Christmas, they might shock households who had a tough yr by taking good care of all of their Christmas items — one thing he discovered nice pleasure in. Contained in the locker room, he handled everybody with respect, from his star receiver to the gear guys who put together his footballs each week. This season, he was one of many leaders of the workforce’s motion on social justice and wrote a poignant first-person essay for The Gamers Tribune about why he determined he wanted to talk up.
He by no means sought credit score or accolades for these items — if it wasn’t for the Instagram of his spouse, Kelly, nobody might need identified about most of it.
For as a lot as he was a star and one of many highest-paid quarterbacks within the NFL, Stafford tried to simply proceed dwelling a daily life. Nearly all of his non-football pals are those he’s had since highschool in Dallas or faculty in Georgia. He’s the uncommon participant who isn’t on social media — and by no means actually had an curiosity in it.
“Most loyal particular person ever,” his childhood greatest good friend, Pan Lucas, advised ESPN in 2016. “That’s simply, loyal is an excellent method to describe him. He’s going to be there for ya.”
For over a decade, Detroit was aware about that, too. The Lions had been his workforce. Stafford needed to win in Detroit, the one NFL workforce he had identified. That was his choice for greater than a decade.
He badly needed to satisfy what the Lions had drafted him to do again in 2009, when he was a fresh-faced child taking on the reins of a franchise beleaguered for many years. And he virtually did it, too.
That he steered it was maybe time for each side to maneuver on isn’t Stafford giving up or strolling away. It’s the fact of soccer life. Of after 12 years of attempting, the acknowledgment that for each side, possibly it’s not understanding so properly anymore.
Certainly, a contemporary begin could be mandatory. Detroit has that with a brand new common supervisor, head coach, coordinators and, so long as the Lions get truthful worth, quarterback. Stafford will, probably, be despatched to a workforce set as much as win.
And so will conclude an period not fairly as profitable as both facet had hoped for however, as time strikes on, will seemingly be remembered fondly as Stafford walks out the door.