I have one of these shirts. On the back, it says “Winning when it counts?” and has the Lions’ magic run to 4-0 in the 2008 preseason. It’s clever. It’s funny. It’s a quick laugh that helped ease the sting of the subsequent run to 0-16. But 2008 is not 2011, and this season’s meaningless 4-0 is not 2008’s meaningless 4-0.
Look, I’ve quaffed so much Lions Kool-Aid at this point, I’m splayed out unconscious on the couch, with blue lips drooling blue drool, a limp hand barely holding a rocks glass dripping blue onto the carpet. So, I’m going to leave it to the words of the late Tom Kowalski:
"You can start and end with No. 9"
25-of-33 for 75.8%. 395 yards. 11.97 yards per attempt. 5 TDs. 0 INTs. There a reason his coordinator at Georgia called him "The Truth." That’s exactly what Matthew Stafford is, people: he’s the truth. He’s the real deal. There is no limit to his upside. He has the physical tools to make any throw, and his field vision is impeccable. He is playing the quarterback position as well as it can physically be played. His performance against the Patriots can only be described as Yodaesque.
I know the skill position guys are great, and the defensive line is truly special. I believe this team is at least average without him—see last season’s performances with Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton at the helm—but Matthew Stafford is on another level entirely.
As casual football fans, the first thing we learn to see is quarterback play. He’s the guy the cameras are pointed on, he’s the guy the announcers are talking about, and he touches the ball every single snap. His successes and his failures are unmistakable, and win or lose he’s the first guy the put the microphones in front of.
We see great plays made by backs and receivers; our eyes are drawn to speed and height. We see the electricity imparted by the great playmakers and how they change the momentum of the game.
As we advance in our knowledge and understanding of the game, we come to appreciate good defense. Big hits. Interceptions. We see quarterbacks hurried by the pass rush and think that’s pretty cool.
That leads us to what we think is the last step: line play. We’re told “it all starts on the offensive line,” and we come to see how great lines make the quarterbacks and running backs look good. We come to see how getting pass rush with the defensive line alone allows coverage to keep suffocating the offense.
But this is the uncomfortable truth: it’s still a quarterback’s league. If you’ve got a great one, as the Packers did last year, you can lose half your roster and win the Super Bowl. If you’ve got a great one, as the Steelers have had, you can start Detroit Lions fourth-round rejects at left tackle and still get to the Super Bowl. If you’ve got a great one, as the Saints did, you can send play defense by sending seven men at the quarterback every down and know you’ll just outscore the other guys on your way to the Super Bowl. If you’ve got a great one, as the Cardinals did, you can completely forego playing defense at all and go 8-8 and still manage to get to the freaking Super Bowl.
Get the picture? The Lions’ 53-man roster, top-to-bottom, is light-years ahead of where it was in 2008. Jerry Jones didn’t sent private jet to DTW for anyone Rod Marinelli cut that year. But the real difference between 2008 and 2011, the real difference between 2010 and 2011, the real difference between another losing season and the playoffs? That difference has to be made by Matthew Stafford.