O'HARA: Phil Simms says Stafford's performance vs. Dallas shows he's truly the man in Detroit

Posted Nov 3, 2013

For QB Matthew Stafford, last weekend's game was an elevating performance, both in how he is perceived locally as a quarterback, and from the critical gaze of national analysts

Mic’d up, revved up, running hot – holding together.

Matthew Stafford has put all of that on display in the first half of this season, and it was never more apparent – or more scintillating – than in last week’s performance against the Dallas Cowboys.

Stafford’s arm and moxie and Calvin Johnson’s transcendent brilliance combined to carry the Lions to a 31-30 victory that has them resting at the bye with a 5-3 record.

For Johnson, his 14-catch, 329-yard game was another example of why he is unquestionably the best receiver in the game – and perhaps the best football player, quarterbacks included.

And for Stafford, it was an elevating performance, both in how he is perceived locally as a quarterback who can lead the Lions, and from the critical gaze of national analysts. That includes former Giants’ quarterback Phil Simms, a two-time Super Bowl champion and one of the toughest quarterbacks, mentally and physically, of his generation.

Simms gushed about Stafford’s ability in his analysis of the Dallas game on Showtime’s Inside the NFL show.

Stafford was mic’d up for the game by NFL Films, and his emotions and actions were evident in the final 80-yard drive that ended with his leap for a touchdown from inside the one-yard line to give the Lions their one-point victory.

The leap from the one, when Stafford had everyone – teammates included – thinking he’d spike the ball impressed Simms.

"It tells me he is truly the man there," Simms said. "That he took it upon himself to read a situation and take advantage of it."

Simms’ comments were based on a body of work, and how the Lions built their offense, not just on one play or one game. The Lions drafted Stafford first overall in 2009 based on the franchise’s vision for their offense.

"They got a quarterback because they want to fire it down the field," Simms said. "They want him in the shotgun. So who better than Matthew Stafford in that situation?"

In the winning drive, Stafford had a 40-yard completion to Kris Durham down the left sideline that Simms said put Stafford in select company of quarterbacks who could make the throw. Actually, the ball travelled a little more than 51 yards in the air – on a tight spiral, just beyond a defender to where only Durham could get his hands on it.

"In my eyes, two quarterbacks in the NFL can make that throw," Simms said on Showtime. "One of them is Aaron Rodgers. The other is Matthew Stafford. That was a phenomenal throw.

"When he completed that, I bet you the defensive back went, 'Are you kidding me'? He was on the right hash to the left sideline."

Holding together – physically and mentally – is an important part of what now defines Stafford. It isn’t physical talent alone.

As the NFL Films clips showed, Stafford’s emotions in the final possession against Dallas ranged from dead calm in his final talk with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to a frantic plea for tackle Riley Reiff to get to the line of scrimmage for the final play, then back to steely control as he caught the Cowboys’ defense in a position that allowed him to leap for the winning score.

There is also a physical aspect of Stafford’s game that largely goes unnoticed. There is no longer a thought about the knee and shoulder injuries that caused him to miss 19 games in his first two seasons.

Stafford’s start against the Bears in Chicago next week will be his 41st straight, tying Greg Landry for the franchise record for most starts by a quarterback. Since the start of the 2011 season, his durability has added to his arsenal of assets to put him within one start of tying the franchise record for consecutive starts by a quarterback.

It is not something that Stafford or his teammates think about. It’s taken for granted that he’ll show up and practice and play.

As Stafford has advanced in his career, experience has taught him how to navigate the perils of playing quarterback. Some luck is involved, but mostly it’s an awareness of how to survive in the NFL.

"I think it’s a combination of things," Stafford said. "Obviously, you can’t avoid major injuries. There’s nothing you can do to avoid not getting hurt to miss a lot of time.

"There are things you learn along the way to make sure you’re out on the field every week. Especially in my position, that’s an important thing."

The Dallas game was typical – except for the ending – of what a quarterback endures in a game. Stafford ran three times, was sacked once and took seven hits from the Cowboys’ rush.

In the fourth quarter, as the Lions were rallying to a Cowboys lead that was 10 points at the time (27-17), the Lions faced a 3rd-and-4 at the Cowboys’ nine. With no receiver open, Stafford scrambled left, then cut up the middle and dove head first for the end zone. Stafford was ruled down at the one. Reggie Bush scored on the next play.

Stafford never thought of a safer, feet-first slide that would have made him off limits to contact. And there was no gasp of alarm from his teammates. Obviously, the offensive line wants to protect the quarterback as well as possible so the offense can function, but there’s no thought about blocking for a fragile quarterback.

"Nobody ever even thinks about it," said center Dominic Raiola. "He’s tough. He gets himself ready to play. He feels that’s his duty to us."

Stafford has made 40 straight regular season starts since opening day of 2011 through the Dallas game.

Landry’s starting streak goes from the last six games of 1970 through the the first seven of ’73. Landry’s streak record is documented by research of Lions’ records, and is noted in his media guide bio in the 1970s.

Stafford and Landry both had a playoff start that would put their streak at 42 games, counting the postseason.

Next closest among Lions quarterbacks to the 41-game mark are Joey Harrington with 37 and Jon Kitna, with 36. Scott Mitchell had streaks of 24 and 21 starts from 1995-98.

Stafford has had some injuries the last two seasons that are relatively minor compared to the carnage that has made playing quarterback this season seem like a demolition derby among humans.

He played three games with a broken index finger in 2011, and went out late in the second half of the Tennessee game last year with a strained muscle. He returned from that injury to start the next week and every game since.

Game action, with the hits and tangle of bodies quarterbacks perform in, are the major stress point for quarterbacks. Practice time can take a toll. The starting quarterback takes the majority of practice plays with the offense, but Stafford hasn’t experienced any tiredness in his arm from all the throwing and practice time.

"My arm is usually pretty fresh," Stafford said. "Coach (Jim) Schwartz does a good job of giving guys a little rest. He has a good feel for what the team needs."