Am I going too far by suggesting that the Legend of Matthew Stafford began Sunday in Detroit?
I don’t think so.
I don’t care that he was playing Cleveland, a team that can rival his own in terms of recent futility.
I don’t care that he threw two more interceptions, one of which contributed to a 24-3 first-quarter deficit, or that he was called for intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety.
Watching him race back onto the field for the game’s final play, his left arm hanging limp on his side, was really, truly and honestly the kind of event that can lift an entire franchise.
Early tests were negative for a broken collarbone, but it’s clear Stafford suffered a significant injury to his left shoulder on the previous play. It’s remarkable to think that not only did he drill the game-winning pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew, but he did it after taking a hard snap from center. (A shotgun formation probably would have been easier, but there will be no nitpicking from us on this day.)
The game-winner capped a 422-yard, 5-touchdown day for Stafford. It was just the second time in NFL history that a rookie threw for five touchdowns in one game (Ray Buivid of Chicago in 1937 was the first). We’ve picked on him from time to time this season, but Sunday he showed a level of toughness, leadership and flair for the dramatic that simply can’t be inferred from a set of statistics.
From the sound of it, Stafford didn’t let doctors evaluate his injury until afterwards. (Remember, Cleveland’s timeout prior to the last play was the only reason Stafford got back in the game in the first place. Originally, backup Daunte Culpepper was on the field for the final play.)
“[Stafford] made a great play to finish the game but probably his best play was eluding four team doctors on the sideline that were all trying [to stop him],” coach Jim Schwartz said, laughing. “I mean, he was lying on his back when Cleveland took that timeout to set their defense and when he found out it was a timeout he popped up and all the team doctors said, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa.' I said, 'What does he have?' They said they didn't even know yet. He made a nice scramble on the previous play but he did a nice job eluding [the doctors]. It's a good thing our team doctors didn't play on varsity because Matt had to work his way back onto the field."
It’s the stuff legends are made of. There have been too many years of too many Lions players not caring enough to do what Stafford did Sunday. Maybe they've turned the corner.