Matthew Stafford had a rough afternoon, with five interceptions and two sacks. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Matthew Stafford had to know there'd be days like this. The Lions had to know it, too.
But goodness, that didn't make it the slightest bit easier for them to stomach, or explain. For the Lions, it always seems just a matter of time -- a matter of time before they find another inventive way to lose, a matter of time waiting for someone to show them it'll be different.
This one was different for a while. And then, sadly, it was the same, as Stafford showed how much time he needs, tossing five interceptions in a 32-20 loss to the Seahawks.
The Lions were making big plays, forcing turnovers, grabbing a 17-0 lead, but in the end, the difference was at quarterback. This was the ugly game you fear from a rookie. In future years, the Lions hope to have the edge there, but on this day, veteran Matt Hasselbeck calmly picked apart their tattered defense, taking precisely what was offered.
Stafford reached for more and got burned. The Lions had a chance, but his final two interceptions were deep heaves, the last picked off by Josh Wilson and returned 61 yards for the clinching score. It was almost as if Stafford was so excited to have his big-play receiver, Calvin Johnson, back from injury, he tried to force things.
This was a crusher, an absolute crusher, and no one was more dejected than Stafford. He answered some questions curtly, and turned away from others. There was no easy shrug after this one, although I doubt Stafford will be knocked too far off track. He must get more accurate, but he sure isn't the first young quarterback to have his aggressiveness used against him, as the Lions (1-7) dropped their 16th straight road game.
"I didn't play well, just made some poor throws, really," said Stafford, 22-for-42 for 203 yards. "Obviously, I can't turn the ball over like that. It's tough."
It's too bad, because early on, Stafford was seizing opportunities, throwing a perfect 29-yard touchdown pass to Bryant Johnson. And then it gradually fell apart, and it wasn't all because of Stafford. In Seattle's short-tossing offense, Hasselbeck completed 39 of 51 for 329 yards, and mostly avoided the mistakes that plagued his 21-year-old counterpart.
In a somber Lions dressing room, it was clear this defeat hit harder than most. I suppose that's good to know, that a team with 30 losses in its past 32 games still could feel the pain. Maybe it's because it was fresh pain, and a unique way to lose.
Asked if Stafford took a step back, coach Jim Schwartz couldn't deny it.
"I think where he took a step back were the interceptions where he was too aggressive down the field, where it warranted making a bit of a safer play," Schwartz said. "Matt made some decisions that I'm sure he'd like to have back, but it's not all him. We had other breakdowns in protection and catching the ball."
If the Lions truly are to grow, they can't pin everything on Stafford and hope he gets better, quicker. They can't wait around for their star receiver to ignite them, either. Calvin Johnson caught two passes but Stafford threw to him nine times, so it's clear what the kid was thinking.
Good comes with bad
Lions fans have been waiting a long time, and the problem is, that's all anyone can do now -- wait for the No. 1 overall pick to develop, wait for another influx of draft choices and free agents. At least Schwartz and his staff are trying to push things. They bench guys who struggle, such as receiver Dennis Northcutt. They won't just keep handing the ball to Kevin Smith if he doesn't break a few more runs, like the nice 31-yarder in this one.
Schwartz showed his own aggressiveness by tossing Stafford in right from the opener, a risky move that should pay dividends in future seasons, but not now. Anyone that expected big early results is clueless. Stafford isn't reluctant to take his shots, which can be good and bad.
The good? He can stretch a defense, and theoretically, make Calvin Johnson more effective.
The bad? He has completed 53.7 percent of his passes, with five touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Nasty numbers. He's done OK at times, poorly at others. I expected more, but not much more, not with a team coming off 0-16.
This was a chance for the Lions to show they have other pieces, and rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew did catch seven passes. But the Lions sorely lack playmakers on defense, so it was only a matter of time before Hasselbeck's dinking would ding them.
Everything about this franchise is a matter of time now, starting with Stafford. Midway through his first season, it's hard to assess him because he's surrounded by so little.
That doesn't give him a free pass. It just means it's silly to overreact to anything, even a spate of bad interceptions. One step forward, seven steps back. That's the Lions' record, and with a rookie quarterback, there's no easy remedy, no real remedy but time.