In the offseason, the Lions gave quarterback Matthew Stafford a fat new contract. As a result, they’re now stuck with him — no matter how poorly he plays in crunch time of key games.
On Monday night, Stafford threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, dragging his passer rating in the final fifteen minutes of the last five games down to 29.5. Before last night, Stafford had a fourth-quarter passer rating of 30.2 in the prior four games.
Still, coach Jim Schwartz (who soon may not be coaching Stafford or any other members of the team) vouches for the first overall pick in the 2009 draft.
“I think he’s an accurate passer,” Schwartz told the media at his day-after press conference, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “Matt’s a very mechanically sound quarterback.”
Stafford wasn’t very accurate last night. And if by “mechanically sound” Schwartz means, “He has a release point ranging from John Unitas to Kent Tekulve and all points in between,” then Stafford is indeed mechanically sound.
Two days after Cowboys coach Jason Garrett called out Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo for calling an audible at the worst possible time, it’s actually good that Schwartz has Stafford’s back. Schwartz knows that, if the team is going to climb out of this funk and save Schwartz’s job, Stafford will be leading the way.
“I think we hold all our players to a high standard, but we also don’t publicly shame them,” Schwartz said Monday, in what possibly represents a backhanded slap from the Georgetown-educated coach at the Princeton alum who coaches in Dallas.
Regardless, the Lions are stuck with Stafford. They became stuck with him when they extended his contract in order to drive down a sky-high 2013 cap number. Including the guaranteed money he’ll earn under the extension, Stafford definitely will have earned nearly $100 million by the time the non-guaranteed portion of the latest contract kicks in. (Which is likely the point Jon Gruden was trying to clumsily make last night when he referred to Stafford earning “$94 million guaranteed.”)
But what has the man who went to Bobby Layne’s high school really done to lift Layne’s curse on the Lions? A yardage machine over the last three seasons, Stafford has posted a 24-35 record as a starter, with only one one-and-out playoff appearance.
Still, Stafford rarely gets criticized for failing to step up and lead the Lions to the kind of results their roster should generate. Though he seems like a very nice guy, he doesn’t seem to hold teammates accountable, publicly or privately.
In 2012, Stafford tolerated a string of bad-character guys whose behavior conspired to throw the season off the tracks. Earlier this year, when Super Bowl-winning tailback Reggie Bush thought a players-only meeting was needed, Stafford disagreed.
For all the criticism that Romo draws Stafford’s home state of Texas, Stafford consistently gets a pass in Michigan and beyond. Maybe we don’t expect much from the Lions because, well, they’re just the Lions. And maybe they’ll continue to be just the Lions until Stafford starts acting less like an undrafted quarterback from Eastern Illinois who has been living on house money and more like a No. 1 overall pick in the draft who expects himself and everyone around him to get the very most from their God-given skills and abilities.