Nothing against the Detroit Lions defense, which has been nothing short of outstanding this season, but if the team wants to finish strong and possibly make some noise in the postseason, it will need superb play from the quarterback position.
So far, so good.
Two games into a stretch run where the Lions need to win four of five to ensure a postseason berth, Matthew Stafford is on fire. We’re talking red hot. In matching 34-17 wins over the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he’s posted the best back-to-back performances, statistically speaking, of his career.
Stafford completed over 75 percent of his passes in both games, becoming the first Lions quarterback to do that in consecutive contests since Dave Kreig in 1994. In total, Stafford completed 60 of his 79 throws for 701 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions, resulting in a Peyton Manning-esque passer rating of 123.4.
The stretch is reminiscent to the way Stafford finished the 2011 season, when he got in a groove late in the year and led the Lions to three straight victories and propelled the team into the playoffs for the first time 12 years.
Stafford, not surprisingly, dismissed the comparison.
“I don’t know about 2011, but I feel good,” he said. “I feel confident in what we’re doing and I think the guys in the locker room and on offense definitely feel confident in what our game plan is each week.”
Prior to this short stretch, it had been an underwhelming season for Stafford. Even with these two spectacular performances he still ranks 24th among qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage and 20th in passer rating.
But with all his weapons in place, namely All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson nearing 100 percent, Stafford has been meaningfully stuffing the stat sheet.
And while the performance against a shoddy Bears secondary two weeks ago could be taken with a grain of salt on its own, it might have been what Stafford and the Lions offense needed to kick-start their confidence.
The Bucs presented a fair stiffer defensive challenge, having held their previous four opponents to 219 passing yards or fewer while intercepting five passes during the stretch. But Stafford had no issues carving them up for 311 yards without turning it over.
“I do think there’s no question about it, he did a nice job of taking what they gave him, spread it around, got it to a number of different receivers,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “He played a very good game and he’s hitting his stride, I think. Hopefully, we can keep him heading in that direction.”
Things get a little tougher for Stafford down the stretch. Next week, it’s Minnesota, which is limiting opponents to just 221 passing yards per game, sixth in the league. After that, another crack at Chicago, but it will be in the elements at Solider Field, a place that hasn’t been too kind to him in the past. Finally, Detroit travels to Green Bay to face another one of the league’s top-10 pass defenses.
But if Stafford can stay hot, or at the very least, continue to be highly efficient, that makes the Lions dangerous on both sides of the ball. And that’s about all you can ask for during the playoff race.