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Lions' Matthew Stafford refuses to wilt under pandemic's weight

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Minneapolis -- This pandemic has been rough for most everyone. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford understands that, but it didn't make his week any less difficult. 

It wasn't having to be away from the team all week after a close contact tested positive for the virus. The Lions found ways to work around that, and with 12 years of NFL experience, missing three days of practice reps was never going to be a problem for Stafford. 

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Minneapolis.

But having to be isolated away from his family, away from a wife and four young children he adores, it was clear talking to the quarterback after the team's 34-20 loss to the Vikings, that the former has taken the biggest toll on him. 

"It's not something that I take lightly," Stafford said. "I understand it's a pandemic and people's health and safety are at risk. I would feel terrible if I brought that in and infected a bunch of teammates, coaches, or whatever it is. So I understand it. It doesn't make it easy, but everybody in the league is doing it.

"I just hate being away from my family," he continued. "Finish a practice, finish a game, go hug my daughters, go hug my wife, that's what sometimes makes it worth it for me. And not being able to see them and hang with them has been really tough. But there are other people dealing with the same kind of stuff I am, but that's just the hard part for me."

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Stafford almost didn't play against the Vikings, but not directly because he was exposed to the virus early last week. On Friday night, his daughter Hunter fell from her high chair, hit her head and had to be rushed to the hospital when she was exhibiting signs of a concussion. 

With Stafford quarantining at a hotel, wife Kelly had no one to watch the other three children. Desperate for a solution, Matthew called the team and told them he needed to break quarantine to help his family, even if he would have to miss the game. 

Fortunately, another solution presented itself, but it also affirms where Stafford's priorities are: Family comes before football. 

"I’m not going to walk you through it," Stafford said, preferring to keep the details private. "It’s a long story, but yeah, I was on my way home."

From the football side of things, the Lions keep Stafford in the loop all week, having him attend meetings and practices virtually. The NFL Network even reported that he virtually ran a blitz pickup drill with the team's offensive line. 

"Our video department and coaches did an awesome job of making sure I was able to get in all those and be a part of it," Stafford explained. "Obviously, Chase (Daniel) and David (Blough) did an outstanding job preparing those guys. They were the guys out there at practice getting the reps and they did a nice job, and I was just trying to do my part to make sure I was mentally and physically ready to go."

Stafford showed no ill effects of missing practice in the early stages against the Vikings, connecting on 16 consecutive passes in the first half before making two costly errors in the second half, throwing interceptions to end back-to-back drives.

He finished his day 22-of-32 for 211 yards, one touchdown and the two picks. 

He, unfortunately, didn't get to close out the game, leaving early in the fourth quarter to be evaluated for a concussion, where he was ultimately cleared. 

Stafford flew to Minneapolis on a private plane, required to be separate from the team as part of the league protocols. But after testing negative for the virus five consecutive days, he got to return home with the group.

Sadly, when he gets home, he will still be prohibited from seeing the family he misses so much. 

"It weighs on me," Stafford said about playing a season during a pandemic. "I've got a lot more grays in my beard now than I used to, but that just might be age, too. I just love playing this game. This year has been difficult for everybody — everybody in the league, everybody around the world. This is a really unique situation and a really tough one. I'm one of the people that's lucky enough to get to do their job.

"You know, as tough as it is, there's a lot of people that don't have a job anymore because of this stuff," Stafford continued. "I feel blessed I get to do what I do. Doesn't make it easy. It's not easy for any of us on this Zoom or anywhere. I understand that. But I've got great support. I've got great support from my wife, my family, kids and everybody. It makes it easy. Obviously, not seeing them is tough. But there's a lot of people not seeing their kids for a lot of different reasons, so just got to continue to push forward and try to be better."

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers