I haven’t written the obvious piece about Matthew Stafford yet simply because it’s been too damn confusing. I have edged around it throughout the season, which isn’t usually my style since I like to take these things head on and then wrestle them to the ground and bludgeon them like the psychotic freak that I am, but rather than doing that, like I said I have edged around it, dancing and sniping and then pulling away, which is vaguely shameful but the thing is, is that I simply haven’t been able to get my head around the issue. Like I said, it’s too confusing. And it’s too confusing because, well, what the hell even is the issue?
From week one, I’ve felt like something hasn’t been right when it comes to Stafford and I’ve said so, over and over again, in very placid “Hey, I think he’ll be alright” ways but that’s because the dude’s stats, particularly his TD to INT ratio, have been so gaudy that complaining felt like a madman’s path, a fool’s attempt to mine his own wounded soul for something resembling justification for The Fear. But there are the good stats, the ones that everybody points to when they shout me down and tell me to shut the fuck up and get with the Rejoicin’ For the Lord and then there are stats like young Matthew’s third down conversion completion percentage, which, well, I hate to tell you this but it’s dead last in the entire league. Dead last. And suddenly my own unease starts to make a little more sense.
If you can’t convert on third down, your offense simply isn’t going to be able to sustain drives. It’s going to fall apart and then Neil is whipping the remote around the room and carrying on like he’s about to sacrifice small animals all because Matthew Stafford threw an inaccurate pass on third down. Of course, it’s not all Matthew’s fault. Far from it. The simple reality is that the offensive line has been, well, a bit of a butt this year. That’s a purely technical term, so let me translate that for you – the offensive line, especially in the last several games, has been straight ass.
The time for soothing words and gentle pats on the back has come and gone, dudes and lady dudes and now all there is time for is motherfucking real talk. I’m sick of couching my words in gentle ifs and buts, as if I was afraid that if I said what was actually on my mind then my own fragile sense of hope would be shattered. Fuck that. I’ve been holding back. I’ll admit it. I think it’s been out of some need for self-preservation, but really there is no excuse, especially here, which is essentially Real Talk: The Website. The offense hasn’t been good this season. There are no qualifiers there. There are no “But they’ve scored points” or anything like that. Half the damn games this season they have looked utterly inept for much of the game, and I’m not the sort of fan who likes to gibber on about things being unacceptable as if I have an actual say in the matter, but, well, this shit has been unacceptable. There is simply too much physical talent on the offensive side on the ball, too many weapons, for them to not be able to consistently move the ball. Yes, they’ve scored points, but far, far too many of those points have come when the team has already been down and needed St. Calvin to put on a fucking cape and fly to the moon or have been scored by the aggressive and opportunistic defense.
Back to the offensive line for a second. One of the biggest reasons why the offense has failed to move the ball with consistency is because the line just isn’t giving Stafford enough time. This in turn has made Stafford evolve from cocky young franchise quarterback with brass balls into quivering mess who’s afraid Julius Peppers or Jared Allen is going to eat his soul again. Naturally, this will cause some problems.
But it isn’t just the offense line that’s to blame. Nate Burleson has been MIA for much of the season and the running game, aside from Jahvid Best’s Monday night heroics, have largely trod the same butt-filled wastelands as the offensive line. But the one man who has blown the offensive game-plan straight to hell this season is Matthew Stafford.
Yeah, I said it and I expect that I’m going to be yelled at by some people or called a reactionary idiot by others but frankly, my dear, I don’t give a fuck. Like I said, I’ve been unhappy with Stafford’s play pretty much all season long. He just hasn’t looked comfortable and while, yes, that is in part a function of the offensive line’s assery, that still doesn’t explain Stafford’s general inaccuracy. I mean, the dude hasn’t been able to throw a decent screen pass for fuck’s sake. That’s a problem. In an offense that relies on quick screens and accurate short throws to consistently move the ball, that’s a huge fucking problem.
Stafford’s Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Eli Manning act (thanks to UpHere for that gem) has been pretty apparent all season long and I’ve struggled all season long to find a way to discuss it without sounding like the dude who calls into the local sports radio show to whine and mewl like a fool and argue with some radio dude named Mad Dog who barks every time he sends it to a commercial. I despise that kind of dumb, reactionary shit, but goddammit, it’s not reactionary when I’ve felt this way for two and half months now, you know?
Even still, Stafford’s season has been so schizophrenic, so wildly bipolar even within the bounds of the same game, that I haven’t figured out how to talk about it. I still don’t know. One minute he’s throwing the ball behind Nate Burleson on a screen pass and shuffling off the field, head down like he just caught a hobo buttfucking his grandma, and the next he’s launching a bazooka towards Calvin Johnson while the fans go nuts.
The sheer, wild joy which was so evident early on this season precluded me from giving full voice to my concerns because if I actually sat there and bitched in the wake of all of those amazing moments from those first several games I would have felt like a fucking asshole. Nobody likes a killjoy. But still, hovering just beneath my own wild, dumb carefree excitement and glee was a simple question which, no matter how hard I tried to ignore it, just would not go away and that question was this: “What’s up with Stafford?”
And that’s the question I’m still trying to figure out the answer to even as I write this. I don’t fucking know. That’s the simplest and most honest response I can give. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. I don’t want to panic and overreact and freak the fuck out just because the dude has a bad game now and then. I just don’t. But I have heard troubling whispers that the dude is prone to sulking in the face of adversity. I have heard stories that everyone at Georgia hated his guts and these give me pause. Still, I have been more than willing to chalk that up to everything from jealousy to the misunderstood hubris of a young superstar athlete, partly because I needed to do that for my own sense of hope, but also because from everything I’ve seen and heard in Lions land, Stafford is a natural leader, well-liked by his teammates and coaches and I remember him staggering onto the field against the Browns his rookie season even though one of the demons from Hellraiser had just eaten his shoulder just so he could throw the winning touchdown pass. Hell, I like Stafford. It’s been easy to see why his teammates like him. But it’s hard to reconcile that Stafford with the sulky, beaten down looking Stafford of this season. It just doesn’t make any fucking sense. I mean, the guy was generally upbeat and ready to kick the world’s ass when his team was 2-14 or when he had no arms or legs left. So why does he look like he spends every day sitting in his room listen to Cure albums and cutting himself this season?
Again, I don’t know. I don’t fucking know. Look, I have spent the last few days fighting the flu demon. I have felt like a hobo shit on my head and pissed in my mouth. I have been achy and my eyeballs feel like somebody peeled them with fire and malice. I am tired and I just want to feel better. And while this has been awful, the one upside is I feel like it has allowed me to understand what is going on in Matthew Stafford’s head the past couple of months. I feel like he has looked – miserable. I can understand his inability to perform consistently because even talking on the phone makes my head hurt. Making dinner feels like I’m being tortured. I’m not saying that Stafford is sick, but goddammit, he’s been acting like a man who’s sick, who’s tired, who’s beaten. I don’t understand why he’s acting like it but I get why it’s making him so damn inconsistent.
Matthew Stafford’s problems aren’t physical. Yeah, yeah, he supposedly has a broken finger and he fucked up his ankle a few weeks back but these consistency issues have been a problem all season long. Yeah, there have been oases, like the Broncos game, but there was no pressure on him there, either literally or figuratively. The Broncos were a shitty team and he beat them up because it would have been shameful if he didn’t. But even in that game there were too many times when I just felt like Stafford looked, well . . . off. Everyone looked at the final numbers and breathed a sigh of relief, but you’ve gotta remember, one of his touchdown passes was that absurd one to Titus Young in which Titus was literally just standing in the endzone with nary a Bronco in sight, like he was fucking invisible and had teleported there from the future or something. Yeah, Stafford hit him for the TD but Dan Orlovsky could have hit him for the TD in that situation. (Yes, I just crossed myself to ward off the vicious multitude of failure demons attached to that name.) Another TD was to St. Calvin on a big shot down the sideline that saw St. Calvin torch the shit out of the dude covering him. It was a good throw but it wasn’t like it was some impossible throw that only Stafford could make.
Take those away (And yes, I know it’s not fair to do that but we need to do these things if we’re going to be able to honestly figure out just what in the hell is going on here.) and what we were left with was a quarterback who still looked too skittish, a quarterback who lacked any real consistency and a quarterback who, frankly, has been driving me fucking nuts this season. Every incomplete pass, every failed drive, was followed by him unsnapping his chin strap, head down, and then walking off the field like he needed to talk to his therapist. It’s gotten so bad that that particular image, that beaten and defeated Stafford trudge of doom and despair, has been burned into my mind. I’ve seen it too many goddamn times and I’ve seen it too many goddamn times because there is something wrong with Stafford’s brain right now. He’s a mess.
I would have talked about all this after the Broncos game, but again, it just would have made me feel like an asshole, and honestly, the Lions fanbase didn’t want to hear that shit. Hell, a lot of them still don’t because their sense of hope is so fragile, but goddammit, I’m not just going to sit here and cheerlead for the sake of cheerleading. And I’m certainly not going to sit here and let others call me a bad fan or a bandwagon fan simply because I have the temerity to point out the things I have seen with my own eyes and felt with my own soul. Besides, if you have the fucking gall to call me a bandwagon fan after the last few years you’re out of your fucking mind. If anybody’s earned the right to say “Look, sorry if nobody likes it but this is how I see it,” I think it’s me. I’ve paid my dues as both a fan and a dude who has written a billion words about the Lions. I have poured so much of myself as a fan and a writer into this thing that if you sneer and shake your head at me simply because I dare to shake the fragility of your own hope then you should be fucking ashamed of yourself. I’m getting a little carried away here, but I’m pissed off. I’ll admit it. This isn’t about being a good fan or a bad fan or any of that horseshit. It’s just about being a fan and having the fucking guts to face harsh truths when they need to be faced and to overcome those same harsh truths and to not let them defeat you. Hiding from them doesn’t help. Pretending that everything’s perfect is just going to fucking break you when you inevitably realize that it isn’t. I’ve started to sermonize and I have been dragged away from the point of this post, and I apologize, but goddammit, if anyone wants to question the nature of my fandom, tell them to read everything I’ve written here for the last three and a half years. Forgive my arrogance here, but I think I’ve earned the right to say my piece in whatever weird community Lions fans have established on the interwebs. And when I speak, I deserve to have those words respected and not dismissed as the reactionary gibbering of a bad sports radio fan.
Ahem. Sorry for that epic bit of Carelordery, but I felt that needed to be said. Now, I’ll get back to the point. I promise.
I have hammered Stafford hard here, but I don’t want people to think this means I’ve given up on him. I haven’t. That would be fucking absurd. After all, he’s only 23 years old, the Lions are 6-3 and the dude’s already thrown 20 touchdowns this season. But that’s what’s made this issue so maddening to talk about, you know? There is so much hope, there is so much that is right, that it’s hard to also discuss what’s wrong without feeling like a total dickhead. The future is still bright for Stafford. It is. And anyone who says that it isn’t is being a ridiculous reactionary twit. But the problem is this: we have seen what Stafford can do. We have seen it in his throws, in the way he runs down the field after throwing a touchdown pass, in the fire in his cocky fighter pilot eyes. We have seen him drop a pass in with perfect touch and precision. We have seen him fire laser beams down the field into the chests of his receivers. We have seen it. We have seen just how damn good he can be. And so when that’s not there – and it’s been missing in chunks of every single game this season – it’s fucking maddening.
I know that sounds a lot like I’m saying that I want Stafford to be perfect which would be completely unreasonable. I recognize that he’s going to make mistakes, that he’s going to misfire on a few throws here and there, but those should be the exception rather than the rule. And the problem, the biggest problem, and the one which I suppose is the whole point of this entire post is that right now, they’re not the exception. They’ve become what I expect. Two months ago, whenever Stafford threw a pass, I expected it to be a completion. Now, he throws it and I hold my breath. That’s not good. But, really, that’s all that matters. Take everything else away – all the stats, all the fan vs. fan sniping and bullshit gibberish – and that’s what matters. I think he’ll get it back. I think that he’ll make me exhale and regain some of that lost confidence but I need to see it again. And soon. Because the longer this goes on, the longer I hold my breath, and the longer I hold my breath the more poisoned my insides get and frankly, my fan insides just can’t handle that shit. Not after what it’s already been through as a fan. I don’t want to see any more big time comebacks. I don’t want to see any more late game heroics. Okay, fine, I lied, I totally do. But more than that, right now I just want to see first downs. I just want to see consistent, crushing drives, and I just want to believe in the Holy Shoulder of our savior, Matthew Stafford. I just want to feel . . . safe. And right now, I don’t. And that’s it.