Quarterback Matthew Stafford has passed Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana in career passing yards in the last two weeks, but what Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia focused on after Sunday’s 31-26 win over the Giants was how Stafford talked about the plays he didn’t make.
There weren’t many bad ones. Stafford completed 25 of 32 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns in the Lions’ 31-26 win over the New York Giants. He had one interception on a play when he confused himself on how he wanted to get the ball to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. on a deep route down the middle.
A week earlier he threw four TD passes with one pick in a loss to the Vikings.
This week’s Monday Countdown looks at what I think is remarkable for a quarterback of our era – a man ascending the ladder of his sport’s all-time greats but more interested in the next snap from center.
There are also takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, who and what are trending – up, down and holding – and the bottom line on what Sunday’s win means for the Lions with a look ahead to what’s possible and what’s realistic.
We start with Stafford moving up:
1. A week ago, Stafford passed for 364 yards to move into 20th place on the all-time list, ahead of Unitas who has 40,239 career yards. Against the Giants, Stafford threw for 342 yards to push his career total to 40,619 and ahead of Montana into 19th place. Montana has 40,551.
I have no illusions about Stafford being better than Unitas and Montana – and also no doubt that both of them would be stars in this or any era. Both won multiple championships.
Unitas, Montana and Tom Brady are my choices for the top three quarterbacks of all time.
Quarterbacks are defined by winning. I get it.
In Stafford’s case, the Lions seem headed for another season in his 11-year career where getting to .500 or above will be challenging. They ended a three-game losing streak against the Giants to get their record to 3-3-1.
Climbing the ladder of history is a bright spot, regardless of how this season ends up.
2. Patricia’s view: It sounded almost like a testimonial when Patricia was asked after Sunday’s game about what Stafford had said about himself.
Anyone who has followed the Lions for any period of time knows Stafford has never passed the responsibility on to any other player, or remotely criticized a teammate publicly.
“I think there is no truer look at who he is,” Patricia said. “He’s just a competitive, competitive guy. He always wants to be the best, and he’s great. He works really hard. He’s competitive. He’s tough. He’s grinding it out every single day.
“You just have to love the guy. You have to love how hard he works, how he battles, and you have to love out tough he is.”
3. Winning: It defines quarterbacks in pro football more than players in any other sports. But not all of the great quarterbacks – including those in the Super Bowl era – were great winners.
Two examples of that are Dan Fouts and Warren Moon. Both had greats stats but were barely above .500.
Moon is 10th on the all-time list with 49,325 yards. His won-loss record as a starter was 102-101 – one game above .500. He never made it to a Super Bowl.
Fouts is 17th on the all-time list with 43,040 yards. He was 86-84 with one tie and never made it to a Super Bowl.
Both were worthy of Hall of Fame induction.
And for the record, I voted for Moon.
4. Takeaways, offense:
- Receivers, equal opportunity: Stafford spreads the wealth to his receivers. Whoever gets open gets the ball. On Sunday, it was eight targets and eight catches for Danny Amendola, eight targets, six catches and two TDs for Kenny Golladay, and five targets, four catches for Marvin Jones Jr. A week ago it was 13 targets, 10 catches and four TDs for Jones, 11 targets and eight catches for Amendola and two targets and one catch for Golladay.
- On the run: It doesn’t look like offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel will give up on the run. The Lions had a net of 59 yards on 25 carries Sunday, 81 on 20 carries against the Vikings and 56 yards on 20 carries against the Packers. The run game is ingrained in his system, and there’s no reason to change.
- Red zone: The Lions scored on their only trip to the red zone, making them 5-for-5 in the last two games.
5. Takeaways, defense:
- Sack time: Defensive end Trey Flowers’ two sacks made him the first Lion with multiple sacks in a game this season since linebacker Devon Kennard had three in the opener vs. the Cardinals.
- Reserve depth: When free safety Tracy Walker went out in the second half with a knee injury, it meant that cornerback Justin Coleman was the only starter from the previous week who was playing. Cornerback Darius Slay was out with a hamstring injury, and strong safety Quandre Diggs had been traded.
- On the run: For one of the few times, the run defense looked like last year’s version. Giants running back Saquon Barkley was held to 64 yards on 19 carries. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry with a long run of 13 yards.
6. Takeaways, special teams:
- Livin’ on a Prater: He made a 52-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in the first half to boost the Lions’ lead to 17-13. But that wasn’t as noteworthy as Prater missing earlier from 53 yards. Prater’s so good that when he misses from any distance, it’s noteworthy.
- Kickoff coverage: The Giants returned all six of Sam Martin’s kickoffs, and a combination of good coverage and penalties forced them to start four possessions inside their 20, with three of them inside the 15.
- Up: Defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand. He made a difference in his first game of the season with four solo tackles, a tackle for loss and pass deflection at the line of scrimmage.
- Down: Pass defense. A week ago, Kirk Cousins had four TD passes and a passer rating of 141.4. He passed the torch to Giants rookie Daniel Jones, who had four TD passes and a passer rating of 124.2.
- Holding, home field: The win made the Lions’ won-loss record 2-2 at Ford Field. They have to do better than break even at home, but it’s a start. Maybe.
8. Bottom line: The Lions are out of last place in the North, ahead of the Bears (3-4), who lost at home to the Chargers. A small step – in the right direction.