For 136 straight regular-season games, Matthew Stafford gave the Detroit Lions something all franchises seek and few find.
He showed up every week to start for the Lions with his strong arm and even stronger will.
That changed in game 137 – a 20-13 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Stafford was forced to watch from the sideline because team doctors would not clear him to play because of a back injury.
Jeff Driskel, who was signed by the Lions on Sept. 17 – two days after the second game of the season -- started in place of Stafford.
The end of the streak is the focus of this week’s Monday Countdown. There’s a look at the immediate impact from what we saw in Sunday’s loss, the timeline of the injury and a look back at other injuries he was able to play through, and a comment from a teammate that shows the regard Stafford is held in.
There are also takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, what’s trending, and the bottom line.
View photos from the Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears Week 10 game at Soldier Field on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019 in Chicago.
1. Stafford’s streak: He was proud of his durability, and rightfully so. He relished being the team leader, and the responsibility that goes with it.
Reliability and availability are important qualities, and Stafford had those after missing 19 of 32 games in his first two seasons.
He seemed more interested in his consecutive starts than where he stood on the all-time list in categories such as career passing yards and touchdowns.
When asked about injuries, Stafford often pointed out that he was able to play through the ones he sustained. Among those were ankle sprains, an injured finger that hampered his play in the last four games of the 2016 season, and a back issue that bothered him late last season.
He also played through a hip injury earlier this year that forced him to alter his pregame warmup routine in a loss to the Chiefs. He threw three TD passes in that game.
And now the streak is over, and with it comes to some degree something the Lions have not experienced since the streak began. Because of the nature of back injuries, there has to be some level of doubt about his future.
For 136 games, Stafford has been the bedrock of the Detroit Lions – win, lose or tie. Now there’s at least a chip in that rock.
2. Eight-day timeline: The latest injury apparently occurred on the Lions’ last possession in their Week 9 loss at Oakland.
On first and goal at the eight, he scrambled up the middle and dove forward – instead of sliding feet first – and was hit hard by two Raiders’ defenders after a four-yard gain. The Lions ran two more plays – a sack, a completion to tight end Logan Thomas, and an incomplete pass on fourth down on the Lions’ last play of the game.
The first official practice participation report filed by the Lions on Wednesday listed Stafford as “limited,” which means he did not take part in all drills. He was “limited” again on Thursday and Friday, and “questionable” on the Friday injury report. “Questionable” means a player has a 50-50 chance of playing.
Stafford was listed as “inactive” on the list issued 90 minutes before kickoff Sunday.
General manger Bob Quinn said in a brief statement before Sunday’s game that the final decision was made Sunday morning when the medical staff examined Stafford and he was not cleared to play.
Head coach Matt Patricia elaborated slightly.
“We thought we’d get to the end of the week, it would be a situation where he’d be OK,” Patricia said. “We obviously weren’t. We had some things looked at and consulted with the doctors. It wasn’t safe for him to play. From my standpoint, I’m not gong to put in him that situation.”
Patricia also said that Stafford wanted to play Sunday.
Bottom line: Eight days in November – Sunday in Oakland to Sunday in Chicago and the days in between – changed the franchise, at least for some period.
3. Teammate’s take: Tight end Logan Thomas is in his first full season with the Lions, and he’s seen enough to appreciate what others have known for years.
“Matthew Stafford could be in a wheelchair and get run onto the field and stand up and say he’s fine, he’s ready to go,” Thomas said. “I expected him to play.”
4. Backup, game changer: Give Jeff Driskel some credit. He was in a tough spot, making his first start since last season – when he started five games for the Bengals – and having not played in a game this season.
He led the offense to a field goal on the first possession of the game, but except for a 47-yard bomb to wide receiver Kenny Golladay with 5:53 left in the game, there was no real big-play threat. Driskel completed 27 of 46 passes for 269 yards, the one TD, and one interception.
He averaged 5.85 yards per attempt. Stafford had averaged 8.58 yards per attempt for the first eight games.
5. Takeaways, offense:
- Run game: That didn’t change, despite offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s understandable persistence. Not counting Driskel’s five scrambles for 37 yards, the running backs combined to carry 22 times for 61 yards – an average of 2.78 yards per carry.
- Interception: The only pick thrown by Driskel was a killer – straight to linebacker Nick Kiwiatkoski that let the Bears start their second possession of the second half at the Lions’ 25. From there the Bears needed only three plays to score the third of their three TDs in three possessions for a 20-6 lead.
- Protection: It was good enough. Driskel was sacked only twice, and he managed to roll away from the rush numerous times.
6. Takeaways, defense:
- 131: It’s a ghastly number – quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s passer rating for the game.
- 3: Ghastly again. Trubisky’s three TD passes on three straight possessions. He had only five TD passes in the first eight games.
- Sacks: Five, in only 28 drop backs by Trubisky, matched the season high set in the opener against Arizona.
7. Takeaways, special teams:
- Livin’ on a Prater: He handled kickoffs in place of punter Sam Martin and made his two field-goal attempts, from 22 and 54 yards. What a weapon.
- Coverage: No damage on returns. The Bears averaged 4.5 yards on two punt returns and 25.3 on four kickoffs.
- Up: The pass rush with five sacks. It’s been better lately.
- Down: Passing game – expected, without Stafford.
- Holding: Golladay. Another game, another long TD catch. This one was 47 yards.
9. Bottom line: Stafford is hurting, and so is the Lions’ record. They’re 3-5-1, with five losses in the last six games.