The Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has withstood of a lot of the criticism the team took for its second half collapse in 2013. Now that the Lions have fired former coach Jim Schwartz, Stafford is the man that most fans will turn to when their frustrations mount going forward. Stafford says he doesn’t care what people say. Hopefully in 2014 we never get the opportunity to find out if that’s true.
The criticisms from across the football world for Stafford grew and became a popular subject for sportscasters. It seems like everyone weighed in at some point. Kurt Warner called Stafford the least disciplined quarterback in the NFL and Troy Aikman called him careless. No one in the league doubts Stafford’s talent, Aikman labeled his arm a howitzer and Terry Bradshaw said last year while the Lions were hot that there isn’t a quarterback he’d rather have.
It may be hard to remember, but another former NFC North superstar quarterback received similar criticism early in his career. He was called a loose cannon, and I for one always enjoyed when he came to Detroit early on because I knew the Lions would at least get a couple of interceptions. While he progressed quicker and achieved the only Super Bowl title he would win during his fifth season as a starter, he struggled at the start and does hold the all time NFL record for interceptions. That player was Brett Favre. I think we all know what he went on to do.
Favre had a better supporting cast in those days than Stafford did, especially on the defensive side of the field. The game was also different. While Favre’s stats are excellent, he didn’t pass nearly as often as Stafford has with the Lions over the last three years. Favre threw 24 interceptions in 1993 while making the playoffs for the first time and only had 522 pass attempts that year. In comparison, Stafford threw 19 interceptions last year, in 634 tries. Had the Lions managed to pull off a few very winnable games (overtime versus the Giants or a last second long distance field goal by the Ravens) the records for those two regular seasons would have been an identical 9-7.
Those things didn’t happen though and the Lions missed the playoffs again. New head coach Jim Caldwell had the responsibility of coaching legend Peyton Manning for 10 years. He believes he can instill in Stafford the discipline and fundamental soundness that everyone seems to agree that Stafford needs to reach the next level. Favre eventually sort of did, at least for a few years. He remained a risk taker throughout his career though, and while it was part of his success it also is part of the reason Favre only won one super bowl. Stafford says he doesn’t listen to the critique of his play and if that’s so, he’ll probably continue to make mistakes while providing thrills and enormous stats as well. If Stafford is able to run into some luck with this style of play, he could reach Favre levels. If he falls into line with Caldwell’s plans, he could actually reach Manning heights as well, his stats are already there. Let us not forgot that for all their success, Favre and Manning have only one super bowl win a piece. The one thing that Stafford hasn’t done is probably the most important though. It’s what Favre and Manning are best known for. He hasn’t won and that’s the most important thing.