Chicago — After more than eight years, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford missed the start of a football game.
The back injury Stafford suffered last week against the Oakland Raiders turned out more serious than originally believed and sidelined him on Sunday in Chicago, where the Lions are taking on the Bears.
ESPN is reporting Stafford has multiple fractures in his back.
"Had the back injury last week, near the end of the Oakland game," Lions general manager Bob Quinn said shortly before kickoff. "Practiced on limited all week, listed him as questionable. Got to the stadium this morning, met with the doctors and wasn't medically cleared to play today, so he was deactivated. That's it."
Quinn declined to answer any follow-up questions.
After the game, Lions coach Matt Patricia made it sound like it ultimately was his call to sit Stafford.
"It got to the point where, I guess, for me to make the decision here today before the game was it wasn't safe for him to play," Patricia said. "From my standpoint, I'm not going to put him in that situation. I love football, I love the game, I'm probably the most competitive guy you've ever met, I want to win more than anybody, but I'm not going to put somebody in harm's way when it's not a good decision by myself and the medical staff."
Stafford's wife, Kelly, hopped on Instagram before the game, thanking the team's doctors and welcoming the opportunity for her husband to properly heal.
"I don’t think there’s anything this man hates more than not battling with his guys," Kelly Stafford wrote. "These men work so hard all year long. It’s tough to sideline them. So I’m grateful for our team docs. He battled through so much, more than anybody knows. I’m incredibly proud to be his wife, He’s the toughest SOB, but I’m happy his body will get a little healing time."
The injury snapped a remarkable streak of 136 consecutive starts for Stafford, who had missed time each of his first two seasons with shoulder injuries before beginning his unexpected ironman streak. It marks the sixth-most games ever consecutively started by NFL quarterback in league history.
Jeff Driskel started in Stafford's place with undrafted rookie Davis Blough serving as the backup.
A sixth-round draft pick in 2016, it was Driskel's sixth career start. In five starts for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018, he completed 59.7 percent of his passes for 1,003 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 135 yards and two scores.
Stafford's injury occurred in the closing minutes of the team's loss to Oakland last Sunday, when he was hit hard by two defenders when scrambling in the red zone.
Word around the team's facility, including from Stafford himself, downplayed the severity of the injury.
"No, I’m fine," Stafford said on Wednesday. "I’ll be good to go. I’m not really worried about it. Something different, but I’m totally good.”
The report of fractured bones in his back sounds similar an injury Stafford played through at the end of the 2018 season. Prior to suffering the current issue, he was arguably having his best season, posting a career-high passer rating of 106.0 through eight games, and on pace for 4,998 passing yards and 38 touchdowns.
Speaking more specifically about guard Graham Glasgow, who had his own ironman streak end a week ago due to a back injury, Patricia was asked about the difficult balance between having to hold out an injury player versus their pride in always being available.
"The biggest thing for me with a guy like that, who obviously has played a lot of football and somebody we trust to be able to understand and tell us when he thinks he can and can’t push through certain things, and not put himself in harm’s way or put his teammates in harm’s way, you trust a lot of what he has to say and how he feels," Patricia said. "I think that’s the biggest thing.
"That conversation really sounds like it’s obviously one that he had to have deep with himself and just realize that, ‘OK, is this the best thing for the team, and is this the best thing for me?’" Patricia continued.
At this point, the Lions aren't ready to call Stafford's injury season-ending.
"I'm not getting into the specifics of what it is exactly," Patricia said. "It's day-by-day, week-by-week. We'll see how it goes from that aspect of it and see how everything just progresses, I guess."
In addition to Stafford, the Lions scratched safety Tracy Walker, defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand, safety Miles Killebrew, defensive end Romeo Okwara, guard Beau Benzschawel and Michael Jackson from the lineup.
Walker (knee), Hand (ankle) and Killebrew (concussion) had been ruled out on Friday. Okwara, who suffered a groin injury in practice this week, had been listed as questionable.
Defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who missed the past five games with a foot injury, is active for the contest.