Stafford won't be on short leash, now or in future

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Matthew Stafford was benched for the first time in his career against the Cardinals, but coach Jim Caldwell said Monday the Lions quarterback won't be on a short leash.

"He's never been on a leash," Caldwell said. "He's never been on any sort of a leash, and he won't be in the future."

Stafford remains the starting quarterback despite being pulled during the third quarter of the 42-17 loss. Despite the benching, Stafford's teammates still support him and believe he can lead the 0-5 team out of the gutter.

"He's our guy," wide receiver Lance Moore said. "There's not a quarterback controversy by any means. We're going to ride with him, and we've got to do it together. It's not just him. He had a tough day; we all had a tough day."

Stafford, 27, ranks at the bottom among quarterbacks in two key efficiency statistics — 33rd in passer rating and 34th in yards per attempt. He's 17th in completion percentage, 15th in passing yards, tied for 16th in touchdowns and leads the NFL with eight interceptions.

Yet, Caldwell believes Stafford can "certainly" be fixed, saying his performance against the Cardinals — he threw three interceptions — was one game.

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"There's still time," he said of Stafford turning his career around. "I'm not closing the door on it. At this particular time, there's not anybody that's playing as well as we think they're capable — save for a few guys here and there. But, still, he's relatively a young quarterback in this league, so he's still got time."

The Lions offensive line showed improvement, allowing one sack. There were, however, 11 quarterback hits between Stafford and Dan Orlovsky, and as Stafford left a perfect pocket a couple times, it was clear he expected the rush after being battered the first few games.

Guard Manny Ramirez said Stafford's poor play is "definitely not on him," but rather the line that has struggled to block and create opportunities for the NFL's worst run offense.

"We have to allow him to feel comfortable back there and feel protected that he can go through all his reads and get the job done the way he should," Ramirez said. "And that falls on us."

Stafford finished 20-for-32 for 188 yards and one touchdown, and his interceptions were thrown right at Cardinals defenders. He said after the game Caldwell told him at halftime if he threw a third interception, his day would be over. He threw one to cornerback Patrick Peterson on the first third-quarter drive, and had to watch Dan Orlovsky lead the offense.

"One of the things is the fact that any time you have play going on like that, I certainly think that it warrants some changes," Caldwell said of pulling Stafford. "And so that's the one (change) that we decided. ... He still is our starting quarterback, but I'm just certainly not interested in watching those kinds of performances consistently."

And Caldwell believes sticking with Stafford is the right move.

"He's one of those guys that I think is a real competitor, and I think you'll see him work at improving across the board," he said. "But it's not just him, he needs some help as well."

Stafford's teammates acknowledged their need to improve overall. The team is 26th in yards and 30th in points. Defensively, the Lions are 22nd overall and 26th in points allowed.

"We don't care what's going on on that side of the ball," linebacker Travis Lewis said of the defense's reaction to Stafford's benching. "When you give up 42 points, we have a lot to fix on our side."

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he was "very surprised" the Lions pulled Stafford, and Stafford's teammates were, too.

But, they realize if the coaches can take Stafford out, anyone could be benched for poor performance.

"We know that he is a heck of a quarterback, and we've just got to deliver," wide receiver Golden Tate said. "I still have a lot of confidence in Matt and I'm excited for him to get back on the field on Sunday because I know he's going to have fire."

Sad numbers

Quarterback rating: Matthew Stafford ranks 33nd out of 35 quarterbacks who have started with a 74.8 rating. Colts QB Andrew Luck is 34th with a 65.0 rating and Texans QB Ryan Mallett is last at 63.6. Patriots QB Tom Brady is first at 121.5.

Rushing: The Lions rank last in rushing, with 245 yards for an average of 2.8 yards per carry. The league-leading Seahawks have 712 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

Turnovers: The Lions have a league-worst nine interceptions and are tied for last in fumbles with nine (losing six). The defense has three interceptions and six recovered fumbles.