Matthew Stafford Leads, and the Detroit Lions Follow to a Win
By Jeff Risdon
There are many takeaways from the Detroit Lions’ 39-35 season-opening win over the Indianapolis Colts. Enough that you’ll no doubt read about them ad nauseum here and elsewhere. But the number one thing Lions fans need to take away from the win in Indy is this:
Matthew Stafford is the leader of the Lions.
This has been a questionable issue, a thorn in every Stafford advocate’s paw. One of the fairest criticisms of the Lions QB is his seeming nonchalance over the years. Bad things would happen around him and he tolerated it like an apathetic bystander, resigned to the mistakes and too accepting of the losing culture that has permeated Detroit football for decades.
We saw glimpses of Stafford breaking out of this stoic shell last season. On Sunday, we saw Matthew Stafford take the proverbial next step as a leader and franchise quarterback.
On the final scoring drive, Stafford went off when Marvin Jones and Eric Ebron each made a boneheaded decision to try and squeak out an extra yard instead of getting out of bounds and saving a timeout.
We haven’t seen that kind of fire in the eyes from Matthew Stafford, not nearly often enough anyway. This was focused, poised, confident Matthew Stafford. He knew he could lead his team to the victory and he refused to let their own blunders stop him.
That’s what great leaders do. They aspire to greatness and inspire others to follow.
This goes above the truly impressive stat line.
He’s posted eye-popping numbers in many games, but too often it didn’t translate into wins. One of the more common refrains is that Stafford throws a lot of empty statistics. While that’s an oversimplified generalization, it’s true the wins haven’t come often enough with the gaudy statistics.
Sunday was different. Anyone who has watched the Lions and Matthew Stafford over the years saw it. Between his comfort with the short-range passing offense, an improved offensive tackle situation and a better rushing attack, Stafford also took on the responsibility of being the definitive leader.
The Calvin factor
I don’t know how this ties into Calvin Johnson’s retirement, but frequent readers know one of my big critiques of Megatron was that he wasn’t a vocal leader despite being the best player. That’s an awkward balance, one that has also plagued Andre Johnson, among others.
Now it’s easier for Matthew Stafford to accept he’s the best and most important player on the offense. Those of us who attended training camp sessions saw this over the summer, a more vocal and strident Stafford. The rest of the NFL saw it on Sunday in Indianapolis, where Stafford outdueled the far more celebrated Andrew Luck in the most important category, the win column.
It will take some time for the Matthew Stafford narrative to change. Locally it’s starting to turn, but the national media will need more convincing. If he continues to make great decisions with pinpoint accuracy and also remains the more prominent and vocal leadership presence, they’ll catch up on it eventually.