Allen Park — The Detroit Lions waited more than five weeks before putting quarterback Matthew Stafford on injured reserve, finally pulling the trigger on the season-ending move on Tuesday.
Lions coach Matt Patricia, who consistently stated Stafford was being kept on the active roster out of respect for the quarterback's competitiveness and will to return to the lineup, said the decision was ultimately made because Stafford's spot was needed to help deal with the burden of mounting injuries across the roster, not because the quarterback had a setback in his recovery from the back injury that's sidelining him.
“I would say nothing changed in a negative way from the initial kind of where we were with the injury," Patricia said. "I’m not going to get into the specifics of it, but we had been monitoring the progress of where he was at. Certainly, as competitive of a guy that he is, he wants to be out there and play. Certainly, we had markers that we were trying to check off as we went through the timeline. (We) just felt at this time that it would be better — as the head coach, I felt it would be better to not put himself in that harm or even that minor or small chance for an injury to occur or reoccur."
Patricia further praised Stafford's leadership for understanding the need to shut it down for the betterment of the team.
Stafford joined his teammates on the practice field on Wednesday, but for the first time, wasn't in uniform. He's expected to continue in his role of assisting the team's younger quarterbacks throughout the week and on the sideline during games.
"He’s the same guy no matter what," Patricia said. "He’s been preparing. For me it’s great, too, when we have those conversations in those meetings, where I’ll talk to the quarterbacks about the defense and the DBs that we’re going to see and things like that. And he studied, he is on his notes and he is giving that information to those guys and certainly helping David (Blough) every step of the way."
Stafford, who hasn't so much as thrown a pass during the portions of practice open to the media since the injury, had been able to maintain some degree of his weekly physical preparation, according to Patricia, but his inability to suit up on Sunday boiled down to his inability to safely absorb contact.
"I’ll never put somebody out there where I think that there is a chance where they can’t defend themselves or protect themselves," Patricia said. "It’s really hard to walk on that field when guys are laying there, and you know their wives are at home, their families are at home, and stuff like that. If there is anything along the lines that’s doubtful from that standpoint, I just thought it was better not to do it."
Without Stafford, the Lions have lost all six games, falling from 3-4-1 to 3-10-1 during that stretch. Prior to being sidelined, the veteran quarterback was arguably playing the best football of his career, throwing for 2,499 yards, 19 touchdowns and just five interceptions.