Stafford shoulders blame: ‘I’m the leader of the team’

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — You’ve probably heard the saying before, a quarterback gets too much credit when the team wins and too much blame when the team loses.

The premise is understandable. The QB is the face of the team, often the highest-paid player, and the one who touches the ball more than anyone each game.

Matthew Stafford is the highest-profile professional athlete in Detroit and the NFL’s highest-paid player, but at the conclusion of his ninth season, his resume will still lack a division title or a playoff victory.

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Whether it’s fair or not, as the Lions quarterback, he’s always going to shoulder the biggest portion of the blame for the team’s shortcomings.

On Wednesday, Stafford was asked how much responsibility he feels for the Lions’ lack of success.

“A bunch,” Stafford said. “I mean, my job is to help this team win, and whatever fashion that is. Whether it’s throwing it 50 times or handing it off 50 times, it doesn’t matter.

“Football is (a team game), but at the same time I’m the leader of the team,” Stafford said.

“You got to go out there and try and help our guys win, and didn’t do it enough this year obviously.”

Stafford’s growth, both on the field and off, are notable. In recent years, he’s become a more accurate passer and a better decision maker.

After completing 60.3 percent or fewer of his passes five of his first six seasons, he’s connected on better than 65 percent of his throws the past three. He’s also thrown 13 or fewer interceptions the past four years, despite frequently finishing near the top of the league in attempts.

And after years of brushing aside the idea of working with an outside trainer during the offseason, Stafford changed his routine this year, joining Falcons quarterback and good friend Matt Ryan out in California to train at 3DQB Academy, the destination spot for many of the game’s elite arms.

Stafford has also stepped up as a vocal leader, often breaking down the huddle minutes before kickoff each week.

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“I think he’s definitely become a better leader over the years,” safety Glover Quin said. “He’s always been able to throw the ball and know he can throw the ball, but just becoming more assertive and he’s a big-time baller. He can make throws, he can make plays and he can elevate this team to a higher level.”

One area where Stafford remains passive is with the team’s front office. While he’s embraced being the best player he can be for the organization, he isn’t about to force opinions on general manager Bob Quinn about what the team needs to get over the hump.

“I’m not crazy proactive, I’m definitely available,” Stafford said. “I think that’s kind of the approach and I think that’s appropriate approach for a player. It’s not my profession to know what guy on what other team, or in college, runs a 40, you know? It’s not what I spend my time on.

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“But I’m definitely available, and dialog has happened throughout the years, will probably continue to happen,” Stafford said. “Whether or not my opinion is taken seriously is not up to me, I just go out there and play ball, and if they ask me something they ask me something.”

Stafford’s focus is currently on the Green Bay Packers. Sunday’s season finale will mark his 112th consecutive start, although there’s a significant portion of the fan base who would like to see him sit out the meaningless game – first, to protect him from an injury that could linger into 2018, and second, to showcase backup Jake Rudock and potentially entice another team to pony up draft picks in a trade.

Stafford scoffed at the notion of staying on the bench, regardless of the low stakes.

“This is what I work hard for,” Stafford said. “I work hard for opportunities to go out there and play on Sundays. I don’t care what the situation is. You get your body ready. You get your mind ready to go out there and play. And I think to think otherwise is not real smart.

“Every time we go out there and play, whatever you put on tape is who you are as a player and who you are as a team,” Stafford said. “And it’s another opportunity for us to go out there and play and get a win. There’s a chance to have a winning record. There’s a chance to be 5-1 in our division. Some opportunities to go out there and do some things that before the season you wanted to do.”

Packers at Lions

Kickoff: 1 Sunday, Ford Field, Detroit

TV/radio: Fox/760

Records: Lions 8-7, Packers 7-8

Line: Lions by 7