Matthew Stafford has played in only 13 of 32 games his first two seasons. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Allen Park OK, here's a New Year's resolution for Matthew Stafford: Quit treating your weekly NFL media obligation like it's a trip to the dentist for a root canal.
And here's one in return: We'll quit asking you how your shoulder's feeling just as soon as you quit hurting it.
For the Lions' sake, let's hope that starts in March, or April, with a lockout averted and a throwing shoulder fully healed and a season full of promise ahead for this team.
And then let's hope that continues without interruption.
Because about the only thing missing from a successful end to this season in Detroit — and the conclusions we can draw from that about the future — was the franchise quarterback.
A year ago, I came up with a list of 10 New Year's resolutions for the Lions.
And by the time they'd capped their season last weekend with a four-game winning streak and a 6-10 finish, they'd made good on most of the promises I'd made for them.
They drafted Ndamukong Suh (1), signed Kyle Vanden Bosch in free agency (2) and made a trade (3) for another defensive tackle — Corey Williams, as it turned out — to give the defense an identity.
They found a secondary receiver (4) — Nate Burleson — to help take the pressure off Calvin Johnson. They also found a legitimate backup quarterback (5) in Shaun Hill.
They ended that interminable road losing streak (6) and finally won a divisional game (7) — two, actually — and in so doing they also got out of the cellar (8) in the NFC North.
So all that left were two unfulfilled requests: A victory on Thanksgiving and … a healthy Stafford.
Sitting is no fun
That last item, of course, is the golden ticket.
This rebuilding effort — well under way after two years of a complete roster overhaul — won't get much further without Stafford.
And no one needs to remind him about that, though we in the media often do, right after we ask him how his shoulder is feeling, which probably explains all the eye-rolling we get in return.
"I want to be out there, I want to be healthy," Stafford said Monday as players cleaned out their lockers and headed into the great unknown of this offseason, with the NFL's collective bargaining agreement set to expire in early March.
"It's not fun for me to sit around. I'm as miserable as anybody when that happens. So I want to be healthy, I want to do whatever I can to stay healthy, and sometimes it's luck of the draw."
As luck would have it, Stafford keeps rolling snake eyes. He has played in only 13 of 32 games his first two seasons — thanks to a dislocated kneecap and a series of shoulder separations too painful to recount — and finished both on injured reserve.
That the Lions managed to turn the corner with Stafford in street clothes, winning four in a row with backups Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton under center in December, says something about where this team is headed.
But a healthy Stafford?
"Going forward, it means everything," Lions coach Jim Schwartz agreed Monday when asked what might have been this season if Stafford and Dr. James Andrews hadn't renewed acquaintances — again and again. "Quantifying what it would've meant this season, I'll leave that to everybody else.
"I mean, I know this: He played in three games for us, and he won one and left the other two with the lead. And he was the guy that when we started our push, he was the guy we were building around."
Promise is evident
And let's be clear about one thing: Stafford still is the guy, without question.
He's the guy the Lions surrounded with weapons the last two years, from Burleson to Jahvid Best to Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. And he's the guy who can take a young offense that's finally productive again and make it special. Give the backups credit — and give coordinator Scott Linehan a hand — for what they accomplished this season. But don't kid yourself: It's Stafford who'll really make opponents sweat with his ability to go downfield or make quick-trigger throws in tight windows.
We've only seen glimpses of it in the regular season. But enough to understand why everyone in the organization is so convinced their $72 million investment will be worth it.
"There's a certain amount of pressure that comes with being a No. 1 pick that even guys like myself don't understand," Hill said. "But he has been through so much in his first two years, and he has handled it all very well. I'm just looking forward to seeing him come out smellin' good on the other side."
He's not the only one, obviously.
"I said this a month ago, and I'll say it again," Schwartz said. "I'm optimistic about this team and I know there's great things for this team to come because of Matt Stafford."
Well, then, here's to a happy, healthy new year. That's not asking too much, is it?
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