Stafford's Guts Lead to Glory

The No. 1 overall draft pick did not practice on Tuesday and was vague about his ability to play with an injured left shoulder. But he won plenty of praise for the way he fought through the pain to lead the Lions past Cleveland on Sunday.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford answered several questions head-on during his conference call with Packers beat reporters on Tuesday.

The one question he had no interest in answering was his availability for Thursday's game at Ford Field.

How are you feeling? "Pretty good."

How's the shoulder: "It's all right. A little sore."

And later …

Are you going to play? "I'm not sure yet."

Do you think you can play? "I don't know."

And if short answers aren't your cup of tea, there's the old "change the subject" routine.

Will you try to convince the medical staff and coaches to let you play? "I don't know. Thanksgiving Day game is such a huge tradition around here, for sure. It's one I've watched growing up. Living in Dallas and going to some of those games that the Cowboys played in; I know I watched the Lions a bunch on Thanksgiving. It's a big game, nationally televised, a chance for us to really kind of get out there on national TV and on a national stage and play some football. It's definitely a big one."

Stafford suffered a sprained AC joint in his left (non-throwing) shoulder during the second-to-last play of Sunday's game against Cleveland. Writhing in pain, Stafford had to leave the game, but was able to return because the Browns called a timeout before the deciding play. Stafford threw a touchdown pass to fellow rookie Brandon Pettigrew to lift the Lions to a 38-37 victory.

Stafford missed the first matchup against the Packers with a knee injury, and Lions coach Jim Schwartz didn't sound too optimistic that Stafford would be made available for Thursday. Stafford did not practice on Tuesday.

"Not feeling very well," Schwartz said. "If anyone saw the hit, that wasn't an easy one to take. He had done a good job the whole game and our offensive line had done a pretty good job of keeping him clean the whole game, but that was a situation where he sort of needed to take one for the team and he did, kept that ball alive, gave his receivers time to get down to the end zone and helped us make a play right there. Probably too early to tell. It's unlikely that he's going to play, I said that yesterday, but we'll see. It's a deal if it get better in a couple of days and it's not as painful than he'll be able to get out there."

Stafford's gutty performance impressed everyone — most importantly, the Lions' coaches and players. His counterpart, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, said: "I think it showed a lot of heart, a lot of toughness, I think he played a very good game and to be able to go back out there after it looked like he had a serious injury was very admirable."

If Stafford — the first overall pick of the draft — becomes a legend, then Sunday's heroics against Cleveland will go down as the first of his legendary performances. He rallied the Lions from an early 24-3 deficit. He was injured when he was flattened on a last-play Hail Mary. Pass interference was called in the end zone, giving Stafford one untimed play to win the game. And he delivered with his fifth touchdown pass of the game.

"I was on the ground on the sideline and they were checking out my shoulder, feeling under my shoulder pad," Stafford said. "I heard over the loudspeaker that they had called a timeout, and I knew that was kind of my last chance to get back in the game. I pulled one of the doctors to help me up, and ran out there and told (offensive coordinator Scott) Linehan that if he needed me to throw, I could do it. It was just my left arm. We called a play that we had kind of drawn up for that game, and it worked."

Stafford's guts impressed Schwartz, but it didn't surprise him. He recalled a play the week before against Minnesota. With the game out of reach, Stafford put his head down and fought for an extra yard on a third-down scramble. He was far short of the first down and he could have saved himself the abuse by running out of bounds. So, Sunday's performance only amplified what the Lions have been seeing.

"We wouldn't have drafted him if we felt differently about him," Schwartz said. "We knew he had that kind of temperament, that whole package so to speak. It didn't take a genius to see that he could throw the football, but it was his intelligence, his competitiveness, his toughness that stood out. He had a very young offensive line his last couple years when he was at Georgia, never once complained about it, went out there and slung the ball and he's done the same thing here. We have great confidence in his confidence."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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