Allen Park — As the Detroit Lions' season circles the drain, don't tell injured quarterback Matthew Stafford he should be shut down. That logic is incongruent with his own mindset, regardless of whether the team is out of the playoff picture.
"I understand your question, but this is what I do," Stafford said. "I love playing football, I appreciate all the hard work the guys in this locker room and in this organization put into going out there and trying to win on Sunday and I love being part of that. It’s tough for me to sit there without the pads on and not be able to impact the game on the field the way I’m used to doing. So, that’s driving me to get back out there. And whenever we all deem it’s the right time for me to be back out there, I’ll be back out there."
Last week, there were reports Stafford is dealing with broken bones in his back for the second time in as many seasons. Unlike last season, when he allegedly played through a broken transverse process in his lower back, he's said to currently be dealing with microfractures in his upper thoracic spine, which could take up to six weeks to heal.
Stafford declined to confirm those reports or elaborate on his injury, but it's already cost him two games, both Lions losses. The team has now dropped six of its past seven — five by a single score — essentially drifting outside of the postseason race before Thanksgiving.
Many fans and pundits have suggested Stafford shut it down with nothing to play for this season, including longtime Lions receiver Herman Moore. But Stafford isn't listening to any opinions on the topic beyond the team's medical staff.
"I don’t pay too much attention to it because everybody’s situation is different," Stafford said. "I just know the work I put into every season and I want to get as many chances to go out there and play with these guys as I possibly can. That’s really how I think about it."
Asked at what point in the recovery process does he shift focus to 2020, and after collecting his thoughts, Stafford reiterated his desire to suit up as soon as he's medically cleared.
"It’s a good question," Stafford said. "I think, for me, if I’m healthy enough to go play, I’m going to go play. Every time I step out on the football field, the next week, the next play, the year’s health is in question because it’s a violent game. I understand that, but for me, if I’m healthy enough to go play, I’m going to go play."
Stafford said the team has not broached with him the idea of shutting him down, but coach Matt Patricia said those are conversations they'll have about players the deeper the team gets into the season.
That was the case with running back Kerryon Johnson last season. The Lions kept the rookie on the active roster for a month after he suffered a knee injury in November, before finally conceding and placing him on injured reserve for the final two games.
"For us, it’s probably, maybe a different conversation as you get closer toward the end of the season," Patricia said. "Right now, where we’re at, we’re just focused on this week and just worried about kind of everything that affects us for this week."
Prior to the injury, Stafford was thriving, even if the Lions were not.
From an efficiency standpoint, he was posting the best numbers of his career, orchestrating one of the NFL's best downfield passing attacks. His yards per attempt and yards per completion lead the league, and his passer rating is the best of his 11-year career. From a pure production standpoint, he was on pace to threaten his 2011 numbers, when he threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns.
"I felt like I was playing well," Stafford said. "Obviously, a lot of things you can always clean up, but we were explosive as an offense, we were putting the ball in the end zone — still are, (backup) Jeff (Driskel) is doing a great job. Happy for him and how he’s playing. I just was having a blast out there playing and it’s obviously difficult to not be out there."
Stafford didn't practice on Wednesday, and appears poised to miss his third straight game this Sunday against Washington.