Green: Lions should do battered Stafford a favor and trade him

Jerry Green
Special to The Detroit News
Matthew Stafford has been sacked 22 times in eight games this season.

Detroit – Matthew Stafford's toes twinkle. He takes the snap and dances back. A dropback for most quarterbacks – a retreat for the quarterback of the Lions. Sometimes he slips in mincing steps to the side. And here comes the pass rush.

He throws. Too often he throws in desperation. Too often the throw is wild, too hasty. And too often the pass-rushing defenders pounce on him. Sometimes they gouge him. Too often they pummel him. It is a jungle.

He has been sacked 22 times this season, a pace equal to the 45 times he got plowed into the turf last year.

And always, it seems, he gets back on his feet and summons his teammates to the huddle for the next play.

Too often, the next play is as futile as the one before it.

And much too often the boos come chorusing from the stands at Ford Field.

It is sheer, outright hell playing quarterback for the home team in Detroit.

Ford to Lions fans: 'You deserve much better'

This has been the scenario for most of the past 57 years. Pretty much ever since Bobby Layne was drummed out of town to the Steelers in favor of Tobin Rote in 1958.

And those of us involved in reporting on Detroit sports back in those years would hear that the Lions' offensive linemen would sabotage Rote by opening the gates on their own quarterback.

Playing quarterback for the Lions is the toughest job for the toughest athlete in this tough town. Too often the routine snap, the dropback, the attempt to throw the forward pass evolve into an escape act.

The comical Alex Karras once offered his opinion about his own quarterback teammates in Detroit:

"They should dress them in a cape like a bullfighter."

Eat their own

This town kills its own quarterbacks. It smashes them to dust. It berates them. It besmirches them. It hoots them. It mashes them.

It destroys them.

Now it is Stafford who is being devoured by the historically cutthroat followers of the Lions. Before it was Joey Harrington, a qualified pro quarterback, who was hooted out of town – and never got his groove back as an itinerant around the NFL.

Matthew Stafford's career is following a similar trajectory to previous Lions quarterbacks.

Before then, it was Milt Plum, a target for torment by his own defensive teammates. It was Earl Morrall, later Greg Landry. Then Gary Danielson, Eric Hipple, Scott Mitchell, Rodney Peete, Charlie Batch.

Now – again – there are the rumors.

The gossip is that this is Stafford's last season of abuse in Detroit. That the Lions in their widespread purge will trade Stafford away to a club that would risk taking the remainder of his pricey contract. That the Lions would grab a new victim to play quarterback – perhaps a free agent or a touted draft choice. Another condemned quarterback.

This all originates from the pot stirred by the rumor quacks of ESPN. And the local journalism outlets pick it up and spread it widely, like manure, because ESPN's mouths are – ho-ho-ho – national media.

There, as follows in the normal flow with rumors, are the denials from management.

Well, for Stafford's well-being this rumor ought to be true. He has too much talent to play quarterback in this town. He gets too little honor playing for a 1-7 team with a sieve of an offensive line that sends him into play-by-play peril.

Send him elsewhere in the NFL where so many teams could use a competent quarterback.

Trade him to the 49ers, now that Colin Kaepernick has shown to be a disaster.

Trade him to the Cowboys, where Tony Romo is usually injured or throwing interceptions.

Trade him to the Eagles, or to the Raiders, or to the Rams, or to the Bills.

Stafford does not deserve the harsh treatment that Detroit gave to Harrington. Weak blocking protection, inadequate performers at other skill positions. Joey was ruined as a pro quarterback in Detroit – by the team and the tough, tough fans.

Then we, Detroit, exiled him to obscurity with the Dolphins and the Falcons.

'Jess block'

In the aftermath of the championship 1950s, every Lions quarterback has been judged against the ghost of Bobby Layne. Detroit was Bobby's town – and even he was abused here.

There were frigid Sundays in 1956 in Briggs Stadium. Up in the bleachers, patrons built bonfires for warmth – and barbecued Layne by chanting their ditty:

"Goodbye, Bobby. Goodbye, Bobby. We hate to see you go."

The chants would come in the first or second or even into the third quarter.

And then in the fourth quarters of so many Lions games, Bobby's eyes would clear. Whatever had happened on the Saturday nights had vanished.

Bobby, in his legendary style, would manufacture a fourth-quarter victory for the Lions with an incisive two-minute drill.

"Jess block," Layne urged his linemen near the goalposts at Briggs Stadium against the Browns in the 1953 NFL championship game. "And I'll get you the championship."

Layne said it and the blockers did it.

He guided the Lions 80 yards in eight plays against the clock and the mighty, original Browns. On the eighth play, he threw a 33-yard pass to Jim Doran for the touchdown.

Then Doak Walker kicked the extra point for a 17-16 victory.

It was how the Lions won the championship, No. 2 in their dynasty decade.

Four years later, with Rote playing in the place of the injured Layne, the Lions won their third championship in their dynasty of the 1950s. It would be their last.

Detroit's glory NFL years were six decades ago. They ended when the Lions traded Bobby Layne away, booted out of town. The Lions – as reigning champions – followed up then with a dispirited 1958 team that flopped to a 4-7-1 record.

The Lions have been flawed most of the seasons since.

Stafford, in previous seasons, has displayed an ability to operate the two-minute offense with precision.

When he has some guardian blockers.

But now, in 2015, he tap dances in hopes of escape from the onrushing defenses. It isn't working for him despite his talent, his courageous leadership and his guts.

He has earned a reprieve.

He needs a boot out of town – like Layne and Plum and Landry and Danielson and Erik Kramer and poor Joey Harrington through the barren years.

Unlike them, Stafford deserves a favor of a chance to renew his career.

Send Matthew off before he is destroyed. He is doomed never to win here in this harsh, tough town that devours its quarterbacks.

Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports writer.