It's clear the Detroit Lions are now Matthew Stafford's team

Posted Jun 27, 2013

Stafford is entering his fifth year with the Lions and center Dominic Raiola says it's pretty evident this is his now his offense and his team

Back on January 24, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford tweeted a photo of a snow-covered security panel used by players and coaches to get into the Lions' Allen Park practice facility. The photo had a simple message attached to it: "Tough to get in the facility today! #detroitfreeze"

Matthew StaffordQB Matthew Stafford

It was less than a month from the team's 12th loss of 2012 in the season finale vs. Chicago, which also proved to be their eighth loss in a row.

But there was Stafford, back to work in the Michigan winter, trying to put 2012 behind him.

Stafford threw for 4,967 yards a season ago, but his touchdowns were cut by more than half from the previous playoff season of 2011. The team floundered to the cellar of the NFC North.

He heard the talk about his down year and saw his name drop down on the list of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

"It's impossible not to hear it just because I watch 'SportsCenter' like everybody else. I'm a person, too," Stafford said.

But he said the talking heads weren’t his main fuel for staying around the facility to work on his game this offseason.

"The main fuel for me is, I want to keep progressing in the right direction," he said. "I want to be a great quarterback. I want to be able to help this team win.

"The only way I am going to be able to do that is if I let nothing get in my way and just concentrate on what I'm supposed to concentrate on and get better at what I need to get better at."

That hasn’t been lost on his coaches or teammates, and neither was the fact that he stayed in town this offseason.

"I think he’s taken more of a leadership role," said veteran center Dominic Raiola.

"I think he’s stronger and in better shape this year. I think he’s got more of a chip on his shoulder this year as well as something to prove. He’s more comfortable and this is more his team."

Stafford, 25, is entering his fifth year with the Lions and Raiola says it’s pretty evident that this is his now his offense and his team.

"He’s kind of taken over that leadership role and assumed the role of the chief and we’re just the Indians around him," Raiola said.

He may only be 25, but In four NFL seasons, Stafford had seen his fair share of highs and lows.

There were the injuries that plagued him his first two seasons when everyone questioned his durability. Then the breakout year in 2011, when he became just the fourth player in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards while guiding the Lions to the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons. Then came last season, which didn’t live up to anyone’s expectations, much less Stafford's.

He says 2012 was a "total" learning experience for him.

A season like the one both Stafford and the Lions endured last year is the kind of stuff a player a can learn and grow from. The kind of experience that helps mold a leader.

"He’s got a little swagger about him and a little attitude about him," Raiola said. "That’s how I like it and how we like it."