Back in March, when the NFL closed its doors because of COVID-19 and went to a virtual-only offseason, there were legitimate questions as to whether the league would ever get to this point – Week 1 of the regular season.
But because of a lot of people who went above and beyond their duties both across the league and in every practice facility around the country, the NFL conducted a draft and a schedule release, and went through training camp under new guidelines. As a result, Week 1 is finally upon us.
New challenges certainly exist with the start of the regular season in regards to travel, lodging and playing in opponent stadiums, but it's certainly good to be here in Detroit talking about Week 1 and the regular season opener against the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Ford Field.
"When all this went down in March I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do with my kids for the next couple days to keep them busy," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford joked Monday in a Zoom call with reporters.
"But like you said, I'm excited to be putting the pads on and going to play someone else. Obviously missing the last half of last year was tough for me, so I'm excited to get back out there with my teammates and go out there and compete against somebody else."
It will be the first time Stafford's done that since injuring his back Nov. 3 in Oakland, which abruptly ended his season. At the time of this injury, Stafford was playing some of the best football of his career. His yards (2,499), touchdowns (19) and passer rating (106.0) all ranked in the top five among the league's quarterbacks through the first half of the season.
It's been a long time for Stafford to get to this point. He said it was fun Monday just looking at another opponent and beginning to put a game plan together. That's a little harder without any preseason tape to go by, but Stafford said Chicago is a familiar opponent, with mostly the same coaching staff and a lot of the same key players to plan for. He's already begun looking through Chicago's tape from last year.
Stafford had probably the best training camp of his career over the last month, looking sharp, poised and comfortable in his second year in Darrell Bevell's offense. His arm looks lively and he has a ton of weapons around him.
He's looking to pick up right where he left off in Oakland last year, and if he does, the Lions are expected to be a much improved team from their 3-12-1 record a year ago.
"No question last year stung," Stafford said. "It stung for me to not be out there. It stung for our team to have it go the way it went. The intensity level and the urgency is high as it always is.
"I'm just excited to go play. I know I have a bunch of talented playmakers around me, some guys that if I can just get the ball in their hands, they can do some pretty incredible stuff.
"It's on us as an offense to go out there and operate. We have to operate as one, 11 guys working together, and just because we had success last year (as an offense with Stafford under center) doesn't mean we're going to have success this year. We have to go out there and prove it every day."
Stafford's just excited to have that opportunity again.