Matthew Stafford is being hailed as a folk hero across the NFL for, of all things, a display of heart. I have to confess: As someone who saw Stafford’s first collegiate pass against Western Kentucky and his last against Michigan State, “heart” wasn’t the commodity I felt he had in abundance.
Arm strength, yes. That he threw for 422 yards against Cleveland on Sunday didn’t surprise me all that much — Joe Cox could throw for 442 yards against Cleveland, which hasn’t had a team in any sport do much of anything since the self-appointed mayor of that city threatened me on live TV — but the already-legendary endgame tableau did.
To recap: With Detroit down by six, Stafford runs around looking for a receiver and, after much hurly-burly, slings the ball into the end zone as time expires. (Did I mention he has a big arm?) Alas, it’s intercepted. But wait.
The Browns’ defensive backs, making the Falcons’ DBs look good by comparison, manage to interfere with two different Lions. The foul on Bryant Johnson by Hank Poteat is called. The one on Calvin Johnson, of whom you’ve heard, is not. No matter. It’s pass interference. Ball on the 1. Untimed down. (Game can’t end on a defensive penalty, unless it benefits Florida or Alabama, in which case it’s OK.) But wait.
Stafford has been flattened by defensive tackle C.J. Mosley and is, as they say, in a world of hurt. The Lions send backup quarterback Daunte Culpepper on the field while the medical staff tends to Stafford. But wait.
Cleveland coach Eric Mangini calls timeout to yell at the refs about the interference call — has there ever been a nickname less apt than ManGenius? — and Stafford re-inserts himself into the game. And throws the winning touchdown pass after the game has technically ended.
Miracle comeback. Five touchdown passes by a rookie, the fifth coming after a hit so violent Stafford was left with a bad left shoulder and might not be able to play Thursday, when the Lions stage their annual Thanksgiving gala. Guts, glory and a really big arm.
And I have to admit: The guy showed me something new. My take on Stafford at Georgia was that he was a great talent but not necessarily a leader. I’m not saying he didn’t want to win. (Clearly he did.) I’m just saying I never considered him a particularly inspirational player. He did his job but didn’t necessarily elevate his team, which was a key reason I wouldn’t have taken Stafford No. 1 overall were I the Lions.
Courtesy of YouTube, here’s the whole wild game in miniature. You’ll notice Calvin Johnson doing the usual nice work, and you’ll also notice Mohamed Massaquoi, who used to play with Stafford and now plays for Cleveland, catching a touchdown pass. But mostly you’ll notice Stafford, doing something I wouldn’t have expected him to do. Consider me re-educated.