'It's remarkable': Matthew Stafford delivers while playing through pain once again
Nashville — What more can be said or written about Matthew Stafford's toughness?
As he's done several times in his career, the Detroit Lions quarterback defied reasonable expectations by playing through an injury that would sideline so many others in his position.
A week ago, Stafford was forced to pull himself from the lineup in the fourth quarter when the rib cartilage injury he suffered made it impossible for him to throw. And the pain and subsequent breathing issues the following hours and days were enough to cast doubt in Stafford's own mind about whether he'd be able to take the field Sunday against Tennessee.
"To be honest with you, early on in the week, I didn't think I was going to be able to play," Stafford said.
But by Friday, when he bucked interim coach Darrell Bevell's announcement he wouldn't practice by jumping in on some drills and team reps hours later, it was becoming increasing clear Stafford was going to give it a go.
And while the final score wasn't the desired outcome, little of the loss falls on Stafford's shoulders — or ribs for that matter. He was superb in defeat, completing 22 of 32 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown in the 46-25 loss.
"Just day-to-day and some of the states that he was in earlier in the week and the performance that he had was, I mean, it's remarkable," Bevell said. "Just gritty, tough. The way that he leads his teammates, his guys want to go out there and fight for a guy like that. He's laying it all on the line, giving it everything he has, and I just applaud him for it."
Stafford seemed embarrassed talking about it after the game, noting plenty of his teammates are fighting through things. Still, there's little denying his performance, given the circumstances, was remarkable.
Twice during his postgame comments he made sure to give the team's training staff credit, saying he's been a project they've had to piece back together the past couple seasons.
Outsiders will look at it and ask, "Why? Why risk further injury in a game that means so little?" After all, the Lions had been all but eliminated from the playoff picture even before losing to the Titans.
But that's not how Stafford is wired.
"I'm the quarterback of the Detroit Lions and it was Sunday," Stafford said. "I got a bunch of teammates out there that worked their ass off and they fight to be available and fight to get out there and play and try and help us win. If there's any way I can play, I'm never going to not, you know?
"I feel like I owe it to those guys. I owe it to the game. I owe it to this organization, everybody. If I'm good enough to play, healthy enough to play, my ass is going to be out there. So, I feel like I was good enough to play and that's why I wanted to be out there."
Afforded adequate time to throw much of the afternoon, Stafford was fortunate to avoid too many hits. But after recovering a botched snap in the fourth quarter, where a defensive lineman landed on him with all his weight, Stafford was slow to get up and in clear pain. Yet he stayed in and completed an 11-yard pass on the next play.
Down 21 points later in quarter, the Lions finally opted to pull Stafford from the contest.
"I really felt like he had given us all he could give, and where the game was at that point, I just didn't want to put him in any more situations where he could reinjure the thing," Bevell said.
Of all the games he's started with an injury, Stafford said this was among the most unlikely, up there with a hip injury he was dealing with ahead of a Week 4 matchup with Kansas City last season.
For what it's worth, he was feeling far less sore after this game than he did after initially suffering the injury, raising early optimism he'll be able to finish out the season. Not that he's given you any reason to expect anything less.