The biggest free agent of 2020 and the biggest trade acquisition of 2021 will both take the field at SoFi Stadium when the LA Rams host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday. How Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford each got to their respective teams is somewhat of a football miracle, but in this timeline the Rams and Bucs look like the two most dangerous teams in the NFC in large thanks because of their quarterbacks.
How Stafford and Brady were viewed as draft prospects is like comparing apples to sixth round picks but it’s always been a marquee matchup whenever the two quarterbacks are playing in the same game. So far, that’s only happened twice, with each player winning once, but there were two other near-opportunities that didn’t quite happen.
2010 - Stafford sits out
The first close encounter came in 2010, Matthew Stafford’s second season in the NFL. The Detroit Lions hosted the New England Patriots in Week 12 that year, but Stafford went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury after three games and therefore did not play in the game, a 45-24 win for the Patriots.
2014 - When the Lions had the number one defense ... until they had to play the Patriots
In 2014, the Lions were actually doing well above expectations and they had the top-ranked defense in the NFL going into another Week 12 meeting against the Patriots. Detroit was first against the run and they hadn’t given up more than 24 points to any opponent. The Lions 7-3 record at the time was actually considered by some to be a sign that Stafford was holding Detroit back from being a better team.
That day would not turn out to be Stafford’s redemption story, as he went 18-of-46, threw an interception, and the Lions lost 34-9. And to this day, legend has it, the 39-percent completion rate he posted against New England is the lowest of his career.
Tom Brady threw for 349 yards, the most by a quarterback against the Lions all year.
Detroit safety James Ihedigbo feigned confusion when a reporter asked if teams had “figured out” their defense.
“What? What are you talking about?” Ihedigbo said. “We’re the No. 1 defense, what are you talking about figured us out? What does that mean? I don’t get it.”
The Detroit Free Press also notes in the post-game article that Lions receivers dropped three touchdown passes against the Patriots. Said Stafford:
“You play a good team like New England, the whole team has to play well and we didn’t.”
The Lions ended up winning the next four games and made the playoffs at 11-5, losing in the wild card round to the Dallas Cowboys, 24-20.
The Patriots won the Super Bowl.
2018 - Stafford gets redemption, and Matt Patricia borrows some of it from him
Detroit and New England would meet again in 2018 and this time the face-off that everyone was talking about was first-year Lions head coach Matt Patricia against his old boss Bill Belichick.
The Lions were 0-2 and facing the Patriots on Sunday Night Football, but Stafford was prepared for the moment. Stafford said before the game that he wasn’t focused on Brady, but on New England’s defense:
“(I) just want to go out there and play my best for my team, and no doubt it’ll be against their defense and not him. But they’re just a really good football team, so we’re looking forward to playing against a really good football team,” he said.
Stafford completed 27-of-36 passes for 262 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and Detroit beat New England 26-10.
Brady threw for 133 yards, his lowest total in four years. His explanation for the Patriots’ 1-2 start in 2018 was fairly straightforward football reasoning.
“We’re not scoring enough points. We’re not executing well enough on a down-by-down basis,” Brady said. “There’s been a lot of talk about it in practice, and we’re going through it and watching film and correcting stuff. It’s just not getting done on the field.”
Running back LeGarrette Blount actually played in both the 2014 and 2018 game, but for different teams.
The Lions finished the season 6-10, the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
2020 - Stafford’s early exit
What started as Stafford v Brady ended as Blough v Gabbert.
Stafford said before the game that he had a ton of respect for Brady and that it was impressive how he could learn a new system after spending so long in New England.
“I have a ton of respect for him. Anywhere he goes, he’s gonna be playing at a high level. There’s no question about that,” said Stafford
Stafford had been questionable leading up to the game with a rib injury, but then started and was pulled after one drive with a reported ankle injury. Even though Stafford had only thrown three passes, the Lions were already down 14-0 when the team put in Chase Daniel.
That had everything to do with the same reasons that Tampa Bay scored touchdowns on seven of their first nine drives.
Detroit had 12 drives and none of them ended in points. The Lions would lose their next game and finish 5-11.
That game clinched a playoff berth for the Bucs, and they won the Super Bowl.
Yes, every time Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady have met in a game, Brady went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Now is Stafford’s best opportunity to not just beat Brady in the regular season, but to stop that Super Bowl thing from happening again.
This week, Stafford repeated that he had a ton of respect for Brady.
“I mean, I know he likes to talk about what pick he was and all that stuff – the guy throws it as good as anybody in the league still,” Stafford said. “Coming out of the hand, he throws it great. Mechanically, he’s as sound as anybody. He’s on time. Great anticipation, ball placement, got a ton of spin, a ton of juice on it still, can throw it down the field. I think back to the playoff game in Green Bay, right before half, where he hits 10 down the sideline, I mean that’s a heave in Lambeau, drops in on ‘em. So he can do it all. From the pocket, that guy’s as good as it gets.”