Column: Stafford’s career-defining Super Bowl LVI Championship

Courtesy+%2F+From+Pride+of+Detroit

Courtesy / From Pride of Detroit

Brian Bloom , Staff Writer

As 112 million people tuned in to watch Super Bowl LVI, Detroit Lions fans were excited to see Matthew Stafford compete in the final game of the season. Stafford’s first season with the L.A. Rams was his best chance to win a Super Bowl after 12 long seasons in Detroit. His hard work has clearly paid off, as he’s become a Super Bowl champion. 

While some may not understand the excitement of Stafford’s big win, fans in Detroit wanted him to win more than their own team. The Detroit Lions organization tarnished the way that football analysts viewed Stafford’s career, but he’s silenced his doubters after this incredible season. 

However, some believe that despite the fact that he won the Super Bowl, his legacy should remain unchanged. Former All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman is one of these people, tweeting his disapproval for his Hall of Fame status.

“(Stafford) did nothing spectacular,” Sherman tweeted. “It’s really a (microcosm) of his career. Did good, not great. Made a few wow passes, made a few face palm passes.”

Here’s the issue with this statement: while it’s accurate, the Detroit Lions’ dysfunctional organization played a large factor in the lack of success. Stafford’s gutsy performance in this year’s Super Bowl is a true testament to his entire playing career.

The vast majority of sports fans on campus grew up watching the Detroit Lions waste Stafford’s prime years, making bad coaching decisions and failing to build a competent team around him. Watching Stafford’s performance in the Super Bowl was everything Lions’ fans had seen him do in all of his 13 seasons. Taking a deeper dive into his Super Bowl performance, like poetry, rhymed with defining moments throughout his career.

After a stop on fourth down by the Rams’ defense, Stafford found receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for the first touchdown of the game and later found his number one receiving option, Cooper Kupp, to extend their lead to ten points. At the start of the game, Stafford was playing well. He didn’t turn the ball over. He was making smart decisions and playing the football we’ve seen him play for years.

However, the disadvantages of having him as quarterback shone brightly at the end of the second quarter and into the third. Stafford tried to force a pass to receiver Van Jefferson in the endzone, which ended up being intercepted by Cincinnati safety Jessie Bates. It didn’t stop there, however. On the first play of the second half for the Rams, Stafford threw yet another interception, this one ricocheting off of Ben Skowronek and into the hands of Chidobe Awuzie. 

Some fans may have been scratching their heads or had their faces in their hands as they watched Stafford start to unravel, as he did on several occasions in his time with Detroit. Stafford has always struggled with protecting the ball, but this time felt different. The Bengals were playing well and the Rams’ offense could not find their footing with the loss of Beckham Jr. 

Later in the third quarter, things only appeared to get worse for “Detroit Rams” fans. On a third down play, Stafford’s ankle got caught underneath defensive tackle DJ Reader, causing everybody to hold their breath. He limped off of the field, clearly in pain.

What transpired next was something Detroit fans had only seen once before. In the fourth quarter of a 2009 game against the Cleveland Browns, Stafford’s shoulder was crushed by a linebacker, dislocating it. Even so, he didn’t quit. He came back into the game and on the very next drive, led a heroic comeback, running in the game winning touchdown to lift the Lions to a 38-37 win.

Stafford’s re-entry into the Super Bowl changed the sighs of defeat from Lions fans to instant excitement.

Then, the Bengals had the lead 20-16 with about three minutes left to play in the season, Stafford has the ball in his hands, with his legacy on the line. When the ball was snapped, he had nowhere to go; the coverage was excellent. Stafford did something that most wouldn’t even consider doing. He threw a no-look pass between three defenders, to find Kupp and give the Rams a first down deep in Bengals territory.

While most fans minds’ were blown by this unbelievable toss, the fans who grew up watching Stafford had seen this before. It wasn’t anything new for the veteran. In 2020, against the Tennessee Titans, he threw an even more insane no-looker, this one for a touchdown.

Stafford ended the drive in a way that only he could, tossing a touchdown pass to Kupp to give the Rams a 23-20 lead with less than two minutes left in regulation. This right here, is Stafford’s career defining moment.

Any Lions fan will tell you that Stafford is known for his fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. Amongst other things, he has 38 career game-winning drives, with 31 of those being comebacks. It was a truly poetic ending to an iconic Stafford performance.

There’s still a lot of hesitation in fans about whether or not Stafford’s career performances up until now are enough to cement his place in the Hall of Fame. What people forget to acknowledge is that he just won a Super Bowl ring and he did it playing the same way he’s played throughout his entire career.