Matthew Stafford has always been a good quarterback. It’s just that he played in Detroit, where star players, make that Hall of Fame players either leave or retire in their prime for some reason. The Detroit Lions are an organization that had never appeared in a Super Bowl and alienated two of the greatest players in NFL history in Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, who retired when they were still at the top of their game. But that is a story for another time.
Stafford luckily did not suffer the same fate that Sanders and Johnson did. He was able to leave the dysfunction and is now with the Los Angeles Rams and one game away from winning a Super Bowl Championship. Before he and the Rams take the field against the Cincinnati Bengals on Super Bowl Sunday, let’s take a look back at his journey to the Big Game.
Early Life and Georgia
Stafford was born in Tampa, Florida but grew up in Dallas, Texas. He attended Highland Park High School with Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw. He led his team to a state championship in 2005 and would become a Five-star recruit, according to Rivals. In addition, they listed him as the number one pro-style quarterback prospect in the class of 2006.
He would graduate high school early and commit to the Georgia Bulldogs, where he would start as a true freshman.
In 2006, Stafford became the first true freshman to start for the Bulldogs since Quincy Carter in 1998. However, he struggled on the season but did pass for 1,749 yards with seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions. They finished with a 9-4 record and won the Chick- fil- A Peach Bowl 31-24 over the Virginia Tech Hokies, and he would win game MVP.
Stafford would be much improved his sophomore season and would lead the 2007 Bulldogs to an 11-2 record, which would be their best since 2002. He would throw for 2,523 yards and would more than double his touchdowns from the previous season from seven to 19. The Bulldogs would appear in the Sugar Bowl and defeat the Hawaii Warriors 41-10.
His junior season was his best season. The Bulldogs were the preseason #1 team, and he was a Heisman favorite. He would pass for 3,459 yards and 25 touchdowns. They would finish 9-3, win the Capital One Bowl 24-12 over the Michigan State Spartans, and be named game MVP. He would go 3-0 in bowl games, forgo his senior season, and enter the 2009 NFL Draft.
The Detroit Lions would finish the 2008 season 0-16 and receive the first pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Even before his junior season at Georgia began, NFL analysts had him pegged as the number one pick if he left early. Even before the draft started, Detroit had negotiated a deal that included $41.7 million in guaranteed money, which was a record at that time.
He would win the starting quarterback job as a rookie and start ten games finishing with 2267 yards passing and 13 touchdowns. Then, in a game against the Cleveland Browns, he would throw five touchdowns in the 38-37 victory. That would be the season’s highlight as they would finish 2-14.
After a rough beginning in the Motor City, things for Stafford would eventually improve. He would lead the Lions to the playoffs three times (2011, 2014, and 2016), but they would fall short every time. As it stands, the franchise has still not won a playoff game since 1991. He holds every passing record in Lions history as he passed for 45,109 yards and 282 touchdowns and threw for over 4,000 yards eight times.
Los Angeles Rams
After 12 seasons with the Lions, Stafford wanted out of the Motor City. So the Rams, needing an upgrade at quarterback, traded for him on March 18, 2021. They sent former first overall pick Jared Goff and two first-round picks (2022 and 2023) to Detroit.
All he did in his first season in LA was lead the Rams to a 12-5 record, the NFC West Division title, and their fifth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. He threw for 4,886 yards, setting a new franchise record and 41 touchdowns, which tied Kurt Warner’s franchise record.
As good as he was in the regular season, Stafford was better in the postseason. He made the playoffs on three separate occasions with the Lions and got his first career playoff win in the Rams Wild Card round 34-11 defeat of the Arizona Cardinals. In the Divisional round against the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he was able to outduel Tom Brady by throwing for 366 yards and two touchdowns plus a rushing touchdown in the 30-27 win.
In the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Rams finally beat them as they had lost the previous two games this season and six before that. Stafford threw for 337 yards and two touchdowns in the 20-17 victory and put an end to head coach Sean McVay’s personal six-game losing streak to San Francisco and Kyle Shanahan as well.
What is next for Stafford?
Finally, after all the down and rough years in Detroit, Stafford will now be playing in his first career Super Bowl and look to win his first championship. That would give him the only thing missing from his impressive career. To me, he has been one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL the past few years. His problem was that he played in Detroit, which has been bad forever. But, now that he is in LA and with the Rams, more fans know about him. Everybody will know who he is if he can lead the Rams to a Super Bowl Championship on Sunday. Will that happen? The whole country will find out on Super Sunday!
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