Stafford, who initially suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder in the team’s win over Cleveland November 22, re-aggravated the injury last week at Cincinnati.
Schwartz’s announcement that Culpepper would get the start puts the guesswork that would have surrounded the game to rest. Now, Culpepper can prepare knowing he will play and
This will be the third game this season Stafford has to miss due to injury; he also sat out Weeks 5 and 6 against Pittsburgh and at Green Bay with a knee injury.
Despite suffering the shoulder injury against Cleveland, Stafford suited up on Thanksgiving Day four days later and again this past weekend at Cincinnati. It was against the Bengals, however, that Stafford took another hit that slammed his injured shoulder into the ground and forced him to leave the game with under four minutes to go.
His need to leave the game had many wondering whether he should have been playing in the first place, but Stafford, Schwartz and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan say all precautions were taken before decisions were made.
“If he should not have been playing, he would not have been playing,” said Linehan. “If there was any way he could have injured himself worse at the professional advice of the doctors, he wouldn’t have been out there.”
Whether or not the rookie played was based on his pain tolerance. It was confirmed by team doctors that he could not injure his shoulder further by playing, so the decision was up to him.
On Thanksgiving Day and last week, he chose to play.
“He realizes that he’s got a lot of things he’s got to get done,” said Linehan. “Part of his establishing himself was going out and playing and toughing it out. If he doesn’t do it, can he expect his offensive linemen or his running back to do it? That’s his mentality.”
Though this has been a transitional year for the Lions, that doesn’t mean progress hasn’t been made.
Players and coaches won’t evaluate that type of progress until the season is over – right now it is about winning – but there is plenty to be taken from a full 16-game season with many new players and coaches.
For Stafford, this year will undoubtedly mark plenty of growth – even in regards to the injuries he’s suffered.
“Five years from now, 10 years from now, he’s probably going to have to play with a pretty sore shoulder again and he’s going to have this in his memory bank,” said Linehan. “‘This is what I’m going to have do. Maybe I don’t throw until Friday.’
“Hopefully, there’s going to be a day where we’re competing for a division championship or playoff implications where he’s got to go out and play banged up and he’s going to have this to fall back on in his memory.”
For every situation Stafford faces on the football field, he can learn something different. Whether it’s getting in sync with his players or figuring out which chances he wants to take, getting games under his belt can do nothing but help him.
There are certain things, however, that Stafford already had when the Lions drafted him.
“Certain things he’ll see on tape and he’ll just say, ‘I’m going to get that “number so-and-so” early in the game on a hard count,’” said Linehan. “He likes to time out the cadence or you see him look a veteran safety off in a game and you say, ‘Hey, what were you doing there?’ He says, ‘I was trying to move that linebacker so I could get Kevin down the seam on a play.’
“Little things like that that usually you’re coaching your butt off trying to get him to understand and he already has a lot of really natural feel for the game, which will enable him to make great strides in this game.”
LEARNING FROM MISTAKES
Other things come with time.
Stafford has struggled with turnovers this year – something that tends to plague rookie quarterbacks.
“It depends on the team,” said Linehan. “If you’re on a team that’s got a winning record, and they’re not throwing the ball as much, the quarterback’s not going to have as many turnovers.”
With the Lions developing cohesiveness and growing in a new system, the team has played behind in a lot of games.
That situation has given the rookie quarterback the itch to take chances and try to win games.
In certain games, that hasn’t paid off. In others – like the Cleveland game in which he threw five touchdown passes to lead Detroit to a victory – it has.
“He’s trying to win the game,” said Linehan. “That’s actually one of his strengths is that he’s so aggressive about trying to get points on the board and it’s also a weakness as a young player because he sometimes tries to do it all.
“But I just think he’s going to be a fabulous player and as we keep games in check and we lead games going into the third and fourth quarters, you’re just going to see a guy who’s touchdown-to-interception ratio is where it needs to be. It’s not where it needs to be now, but it will be soon.”