People used to talk as if the Detroit Lions could have won more games if it hadn’t been for Matthew Stafford.
Will they now start to acknowledge that the Lions would have lost considerably more games than even they are accustomed to if it hadn’t been for today’s Super Bowl champion?
From 2011-2020, the Lions won 71 games, which ranks as only the 25th-most in the NFL over that period of time. Detroit lost more games during the bulk of Stafford’s career (he missed most of 2009-10 with injury and predictably, the Lions were terrible then) than the Dolphins, Bears, Bengals, Cardinals, Texans, Chargers, and Rams, but still more games than the Giants, Raiders, Commanders, and Buccaneers.
If not for Stafford, Detroit could easily be competing with the Jacksonville Jaguars as the worst team of the 2010s.
Because of Stafford, the Lions went to the playoffs in 2011, 2014, and 2016. Because of Matthew Stafford.
I’m not saying he gets all of the credit, just that the Lions would have been to zero postseasons during this century if they had employed a lesser quarterback in the previous decade.
In the 10 years prior to Stafford’s reign in the 2010s, the Lions won 39 games—that is 16 fewer than 31st-place Houston and it is even five fewer wins than what the Jaguars had from 2011-2020.
The Lions almost doubled their win total from the non-Stafford era to the Stafford era and a lot of that was due to the fact that the former five-star recruit, top-ranked freshman at Georgia, and number one overall pick in the draft was by far the best quarterback in the fourth quarter when he had to be—and he often had to be.
As we saw in the divisional round against the Bucs, the NFC Championship against the 49ers, and the Super Bowl against the Bengals, the Los Angeles Rams needed Matthew Stafford to step up on the final drive. All three times, he did.
It’s what Lions fans already knew could happen.
From 2011-2020, Stafford had 36 game-winning drives, which was five more than second-place Russell Wilson during that time, six more than Drew Brees, and 16 more times than Aaron Rodgers.
Of course, the Lions needed more comebacks because they are a worse team than the Packers or the Patriots, with Tom Brady rarely needing to climb out of a hole, but few quarterbacks are able to dial it in when the game is on the line and their team is asking for a last minute bailout. Stafford excels in those moments.
He excels in those moments like few players in NFL history.
Stafford led the NFL in game-winning dries in 2014, 2016, and 2017, leading Detroit to winning seasons in all three of those campaigns when otherwise they could have easily had losing records once again. He had eight game-winning drives during a 9-7 season in 2016—all but one win required Stafford to step up in the game’s big moment.
He keeps doing it.
He led the Rams to four game-winning drives in 2021 and he demonstrated unparalleled ability in the fourth quarter: 71% completions, 12 TD, 0 INT, 126.4 passer rating in the game’s final quarter. He had 22 touchdowns and only four interceptions in the second half of games during a 17-game regular season.
When LA was trailing with less than two minutes to go in the regular season, Stafford went 9-of-14 for 3 touchdowns and no picks.
In the playoffs, Stafford kicked things off with a 29-yard pass in the fourth quarter of the wild card win over Arizona to Cooper Kupp. the next week, he went 44 yards to Kupp with :44 seconds left to beat the Buccaneers. In the NFC Championship game, Stafford hit Odell Beckham Jr with 9:47 remaining and the Rams trailing 17-14, gaining 29 yards and setting up another scoring play. Six minutes later, he found Kupp for 25 yards on third-and-three. Another huge Stafford moment.
Then in the Super Bowl, Stafford found Kupp for 22 yards when the Rams trailed 20-16 and barely three minutes remained.
Stafford has made clutch play after clutch play and while that was practically expected of him and taken for granted in Detroit, the noise was always that he couldn’t replicate that in the playoffs. Now he’s been paired with one of the greatest receivers of his generation (again) and a much more talented cast of coaches and personnel to give him the opportunity to showcase what he’s capable of when the game is on the line.
Whether or not Stafford is worthy of a Hall of Fame ticket based on one Super Bowl championship is a matter that will be debated in 2022 even though it likely won’t matter for at least another 10 years.
Whether or not we should respect Stafford as one of the greatest clutch players on football history is no longer up for debate.