Whicker: Can Matthew Stafford be the Rams’ winning influencer?

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The Detroit Lions are the lone NFL franchise that existed earlier the Super Bowl came on and has ne'er played successful it.

Start there.

They haven’t won an title since 1957, erstwhile determination were 48 states, Bill Belichick was 5 years old, and the Beatles were 7 years distant from invading America.

The Lions person not won a playoff crippled since 1991. In 2008, they were 0-16, mislaid successful a backmost wilderness into which Scott Mitchell, Gus Frerotte, Charlie Batch, Jon Kitna, Eric Hipple and others had led them.

At the 2009 draft, manager Jim Schwartz announced, “We astir apt should deliberation astir replacing Bobby Layne.” They had the archetypal prime and the University of Georgia’s Matthew Stafford was the lone candidate.

Like Layne, Stafford was from Highland Park High successful Dallas. Layne had brought Detroit titles successful 1952 and 1953 and was wounded erstwhile the Lions won successful 1957. He was magnetic connected the field, tireless disconnected it. He said his extremity successful beingness was to tally retired of wealth and oxygen simultaneously. Stafford was expected to beryllium the adjacent Layne, 1 who made curfew.

For the astir part, helium was. In his 10th game, helium appeared to propulsion an incompletion astatine the buzzer, but Cleveland was whistled for walk interference. Stafford, his enarthrosis aching, threw to Brandon Pettigrew and won it, 38-37.

“His champion play,” Schwartz said, “was eluding the 4 doctors that wanted to instrumentality him out.”

In Stafford’s 3rd year, the Lions made the wild-card game. But the beforehand bureau kept firing the close coaches and hiring the incorrect ones, and by the extremity of 2020, Stafford’s idiosyncratic won-loss grounds was 74-90-1. After 12 years of rehab and regret, it was clip to move.

On Sept. 12, helium volition pb the Rams against the Chicago Bears successful SoFi Stadium.

“I was moving with the Falcons erstwhile helium was astatine Georgia,” Rams wide manager Les Snead said. “He was 30 minutes from our facility. You could get a speeding summons connected the way. We knew we couldn’t get him, but I inactive watched his Pro Day and it was the champion I’ve ever seen for a quarterback. It’s inactive stamped connected my mind, the mode you could consciousness that shot travel retired of his hand.”

Let’s beryllium clear. This is not tennis oregon boxing, and the quarterback’s W-L grounds is simply a horribly overused barometer. The Lions’ moving game, successful presumption of yards per carry, was ranked 26th oregon little 5 times successful Stafford’s tenure, and ne'er higher than 14th with ne'er much than 17 rushing touchdowns. Beginning successful 2014, helium was sacked 223 times implicit 5 seasons.

Yet from 2011 done 2018, helium ne'er missed a start, and helium refused to shelter-in-place during futile Decembers. His alpha-ness protected him from wide instrumentality abuse.

Meanwhile, the Rams had nary occupation blaming Jared Goff, whom they traded to Detroit for Stafford. Goff ranks up of Stafford among progressive QBs successful yards per effort and QB rating. He besides is 42-20 since his 0-7 rookie year, quarterbacked successful a Super Bowl successful his 3rd season, and won a playoff crippled with a busted thumb successful January.

Coach Sean McVay wanted a amended limb and much composure nether pressure. In immoderate event, Stafford’s tenure with the Rams volition beryllium a trial of conscionable however instrumental a backmost is.

“I deliberation the satellite of both,” said ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky, who backed up Stafford successful Detroit, “but Matthew’s an upgrade. His limb is indisputable. He’s ne'er had a accidental to bash the play-action crippled similar he’ll person now. He tin thrust balls into tighter windows, springiness you those 15- to 22-yard chunk plays. You’ll spot third-and-eight conversions. He tin marque throws Jared can’t make. Looking this way, sidearming the different way? Most of america would get fired if we tried that.”

Nick Jones is simply a Rams adjunct manager who was Georgia’s elder halfway erstwhile Stafford was a freshman.

“We didn’t cognize thing astir him,” Jones said. “Then we saw him propulsion and we said, ‘Whoa. Damn.’ Then helium went retired determination and beat Auburn arsenic a freshman. He’d scramble for a archetypal down and I’d spell implicit and prime him up and he’d say, ‘Let’s go, let’s get it.’ I’d think, ‘This is not a emblematic freshman.’”

Stafford’s fastballs besides near atypical marks connected a receiver’s fingers and sternum.

“He was a gunslinger, but I retrieve that Auburn game, and a play-action accidental successful the reddish zone,” said Mike Bobo, Georgia’s violative coordinator astatine the time. “Normally he’d rip that happening successful there, but helium saw helium had nothing, and helium fired it implicit the guy’s head. (Head coach) Mark Richt came implicit and said, ‘He’s starting to get it.’ There was nary stopping him aft that.”

What astir apt intrigued McVay is Stafford’s indefinable consciousness of assurance, the I-got-this factor. It showed 1 time successful Dallas erstwhile helium faked a spike connected the 1-yard-line and past dived crossed the enactment for a touchdown and victory. It showed successful October erstwhile Stafford got the shot with 1:04 to spell successful Atlanta and threw the winning TD to T.J. Hockenson arsenic the timepiece went to zeroes. He has led 31 fourth-quarter comebacks and 38 game-winning drives.

As Aaron Rodgers smolders his mode done an disconnected play similar a Shakespearean histrion who doesn’t similar her dressing country carpet, Stafford, 33, permitted himself lone 1 faint ailment astir the Motown years. He said helium grew bushed of the “one o’clock games” astatine the extremity of the season, the ones that signify irrelevance. With the Rams, premier clip is simply a mode of life.

Jim Plunkett and Carson Palmer could beryllium Stafford’s antecedents. They were first-overall draught picks, beaten down and astir out. Then they reached Super Bowls, with the Raiders and Cardinals, erstwhile they had teammates worthy leading.

The amusive of 2021 volition beryllium discovering whether Stafford tin bushed contemporaries of 1 season. It mightiness beryllium easier than staring down gargoyles of the past 64.

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