Lions tenure readied Stafford for Super Bowl debut

Field Level Media

February 08, 2022 at 12:47 am.

A high-powered telescope wouldn’t have helped Matthew Stafford spot the Super Bowl from Detroit.

The 13-year veteran will have the closest view possible on Sunday when the Los Angeles Rams face the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI, but all those fruitless seasons with the Lions are providing him with large doses of appreciation.

“I probably bring a unique perspective to this team,” Stafford said of the Rams during Monday’s media availability. “I didn’t have (playoff runs) at the beginning of my career but my experiences (in Detroit) have helped me become the player that I am and the teammate I am.

“It makes me appreciate the opportunity and I know they are hard to come by.”

Stafford played in three playoff games in Detroit — losing all three — but has reversed the scales in his first season in Los Angeles. He guided the Rams to three consecutive wins and now a career-defining opportunity awaits.

Stafford, who turned 34 on Monday, has passed for 905 yards, six touchdowns and one interception this postseason. He guided Los Angeles back from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game for a 20-17 victory on Jan. 30.

Stafford has meshed well with two 36-year-old bosses — coach Sean McVay and offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell — in his first season in Los Angeles. The results included matching his career best of 41 touchdown passes, which ranked second in the NFL behind Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady (43).

“He and I are so close in age and I have so much respect for how he sees the game and this offense,” Stafford said of McVay. “And I feel he has great respect for my vision.

“Do we disagree in games and practices? Yes. But it is always with healthy respect of what the other person’s job is … and the way he calls the game is unbelievable. It’s great working with him. He’s such a smart guy, but such a relatable guy as well, so it’s been fun.”

Four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth said he was immediately impressed with how Stafford took responsibility for everything that occurs on the field.

An offensive lineman could miss the block or a receiver could run the wrong route and Stafford would jump in first to say that he could have done something better.

“I always had a ton of respect for him in the league and his talent and his ability and some of the crazy no-look throws and things he had done in his career,” Whitworth said. “You saw all the injuries he played through and how tough he was.

“He accepts all challenges. … He’s one heck of a football player and it gives you nothing but respect for him each and every day.”

All those traits developed in Detroit where Stafford couldn’t corral success.

Sure, the Lions won 10 games in 2011 and 11 in 2014, but they also finished below .500 in eight of Stafford’s 12 seasons.

After a 5-11 mark in 2020, Stafford knew it was time to leave. A deal with the Rams was consummated, with quarterback Jared Goff shipped to Detroit in return.

And over the past week, Stafford’s phone has been bustling with calls and messages from some of his former teammates with the Lions, including a text from Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson, his top target for seven seasons.

“I have heard from Calvin. I’ve heard from a bunch of old teammates,” Stafford said. “(Calvin) was such a big part of my success in Detroit. The way he went about his business and treated people and his work ethic was all class. …

“I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Detroit and will always appreciate the fans.”

Stafford’s career numbers include 49,995 yards and 323 touchdowns in the regular season. Add a Super Bowl title to the resume as those statistical figures continue to grow in future seasons, and an eventual Hall of Fame induction could be on the horizon.

But taking care of business this Sunday is where Stafford’s focus lies, not on cementing any legacy.

“What I came here for was a new beginning, a new opportunity and to go out and play football for a great team,” Stafford said. “I’m sure Sunday I’m going to be as excited as I’ve ever been playing a football game, there’s no question about that, understanding the magnitude.”

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