So do most of the stats – 335 yards passing and a touchdown – if you’re willing to discount the three interceptions in the first half that must have made most of Lions Nation think the Mayan’s had set the doomsday calendar for Sunday, Sept. 9 at Ford Field in Detroit.
What was most impressive about the way Stafford played the part of trigger man on Sunday’s 27-23 win over the Rams wasn’t what showed up on the stats sheet.
It’s what the coaching staff and his teammates didn’t see.
He didn’t show a bit of panic after throwing those three ungodly interceptions in the first half.
“Nothing,” is the way center
Frustration? Certainly. But Stafford didn’t show any loss of faith in his ability to make the tough throws that would be needed later.
The possibility of losing never entered his mind.
“No,” Stafford said. “It’s a tough spot, and you just have to keep grinding – trust yourself, and trust your teammates.”
When it came down to the fourth quarter – time to score or go home with a loss - Stafford led the Lions to a pair of 80-yard drives on their last two possessions.
The first covered 80 yards and took only five plays – three pass completions for gains of 20, 18 and 24 yards – and two runs by
The Lions were a lot closer to the precipice on the second. They got the ball at their 20 with 1:55 left and facing a 23-20 deficit after the Rams had kicked the go-ahead field goal.
With only one timeout left, they needed a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win.
Again, there was no change in Stafford – no big speech in the huddle.
“None of that,” Raiola said.
He completed seven of nine passes, with one incompletion, a spike to stop the clock. A five-yard pass to Smith in the right flat produced the game-winner.
Delivering a game-winning drive is something the Lions were accustomed to getting from Stafford last season, with his golden arm and a pulse rate that must beat considerably slower than the average human being’s under pressure.
The golden arm that produced 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns might have had a nick, or two, or three on it in the first half Sunday. In the fourth quarter, it did nothing but glitter when the Lions needed a franchise-type performance from their franchise quarterback.
There were fist pumps and hugs after Stafford hit Smith for the winning score with 10 seconds left. That’s understandable.
But it was the calm precision in the clutch that led the Lions to a 10-6 record a year ago and kept them from what would have been a disheartening loss against a Rams team that was 2-14 a year ago and 15-65 over the last five seasons.
“I was just trying to go out there and win it,” Stafford said. “I trust my teammates, and my teammates trust me, no matter what happens in the first half.”
There are plenty of pieces in the big picture of what Sunday’s performance means going forward.
Certainly, the Lions will face a much tougher text next Sunday night when they play at San Francisco on national TV.
The defense was good enough in a lot of ways – primarily pass rush and run defense – but the secondary remains a work in progress. It was adequate against the Rams, despite some breakdowns. A concussion sustained by rookie
But on its own merit, Sunday’s game showed the value of having a legitimate franchise quarterback. Stafford is every bit of that. He has the arm, the smarts and the temperament.
The fourth quarter is winning time, and Stafford is a winner in the fourth quarter. He has bred a belief in his teammates.
They look past his interceptions because he does.
One thing needs to be said here. It’s not like Stafford is cavalier about interceptions. Of course he cares. But he lives for the next play, not the last down.
“Obviously, you don’t want to have three,” he said. “You don’t want to have three in the first five games, and you don’t want to have three in the first half of the first one.”
When the Lions got the ball on their last drive, the only thing Schwartz thought about was going for the win with a touchdown.
“The whole time, we never talked about playing for a tie,” Schwartz said. “Let’s go down and score a touchdown.
“You can’t do that without a quarterback like Matt.”