Stafford Back Under Center

Posted Nov 1, 2009

Matthew Stafford's education as a NFL quarterback resumed Sunday, but without the results he wanted.

The Lions' top draft pick last spring returned to the lineup after missing two games with a partially dislocated kneecap, but his return wasn't enough to save Detroit from dropping a 17-10 decision to St. Louis.

One positive note, however, was that the former Georgia standout had no ill effects from the injury he suffered Oct. 4 at Chicago.

"I felt good. The knee felt fine," Stafford said after the game. "Obviously, I'd have liked to come out with a win."

Stafford thought he might have been a bit rusty after the long layoff.

"I don't know," he said. "I didn't play as sharp as I need to."

Stafford's disappointment after the game was in sharp contrast to his joy when he scored on a 4-yard keeper early in the fourth quarter to pull Detroit into a 10-10 tie.

The touchdown run capped a 10-play, 82-yard drive that included completions of 13 yards to tight end Brandon Pettigrew and 36 yards to wide receiver Bryant Johnson.

"I was excited," Stafford said of his touchdown run. "It was a game-tying play. I wish it would have been part of a win."

Stafford's final line showed 14 completions in 33 attempts for 168 yards. That doesn't tell the complete story because several of Stafford's on-target passes were dropped, especially early in the contest, by a receiving corps that was missing Calvin Johnson for the second-straight game because of a knee injury.

"It's tough (not having Johnson)," Stafford said. "He's a big part of our offense. He's doing everything he can to get back and when he does. We'll be happy to have him."

Stafford didn't put all of the blame for Detroit's failure to move the ball consistently on the dropped passes.

"It wasn't just that," he said. "I wasn't hitting guys where I needed to hit them. We had some penalties that killed us. "We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot, killing drives."

That was never more vividly illustrated than the Lions' final possession of the game.

St. Louis had scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:38 remaining. The Lions started their last drive on their own 20, but on second down a holding penalty moved the ball back to the 10. It proved to be too big a hole for Detroit to dig itself out of in the final 90 seconds.

"We had two penalties (one was nullified by a Rams penalty on the same play) that put us behind the sticks," Stafford said. "We couldn't get anything going then. Second and 20, third and 20, good luck. They're playing everybody 10 to 15 yards deep so there aren't many places to throw the ball."

Lions coach Jim Schwartz scoffed at any suggestions that Stafford's inexperience might have cost the team a chance at its second victory of the season.

"I think it has more to do with our playmaking ability than inexperience," Schwartz said.

Veteran center Dominic Raiola also had Stafford's back -- in more ways than one.

When a few fans started heckling the rookie quarterback, Raiola was quick to admonish them.

"When you talk to any of my teammates, I'm going to stick up for them," Raiola said.

After the game, Raiola continued to show his support for Stafford.

"He's gonna be the guy. He's gonna be good," Raiola said. "It's not all him. If you know what you're watching, it's not all on '9.' We didn't give Matt the time he should have had."

When all was said and done, however, the Lions dropped a game that they felt they should have won.

"I think we left plays on the field, for sure, whether it was me missing guys or something else," Stafford said. "There were definitely plays we could have made that we didn't."

So the education of an NFL rookie quarterback continues. There will be ups and downs, but the good thing is, Stafford is back again to resume his schooling.