CHICAGO — Watching Matthew Stafford in practice last week, no one had a sense that his ironman streak would be coming to an end Sunday at Soldier Field.
Stafford practiced with the Detroit Lions’ first-team offense for much of the week, looked like his normal self when he was on the field, and even downplayed the nature of his injury – which ESPN reported was fractured bones in his back – when he met with reporters and talked with teammates in the locker room.
“One thing about Stafford, you ain’t going to never know if he’s hurt or not, anyway. He’s just a stone-cold killer,” cornerback Darius Slay said. “(In practice he looked) awesome to me, great to me.”
So when Lions coach Matt Patricia informed some players early Saturday that Stafford was too hurt to play in their must-win division game Sunday against the Chicago Bears, he was met with a general sense of astonishment.
One of the NFL’s toughest players, Stafford missed his first game Sunday since Jan. 2, 2011, a span of 3,234 days and 136 consecutive starts, the second-longest active streak among quarterbacks in the NFL to Phillip Rivers’ 217.
Jeff Driskel, who signed as a free agent in September, started, led a game-opening field-goal drive and connected on a late touchdown pass to Kenny Golladay, but in between struggled to sustain drives as the Lions (3-5-1) lost for the fifth time in six games, 20-13, to the offensively-inept Chicago Bears.
The Bears (4-5) scored all three of their touchdowns on consecutive possessions at the end of the first half and into the third quarter.
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“Matt could be in a wheel chair, then get thrown out there and stand up and throw a pass and he’ll say he’s fine and ready to go,” tight end Logan Thomas said. “He’ll never show a weakness at any point. That’s just who he is. You got to applaud the guy. We didn’t find out what exactly the problem was until (Saturday). So he’s just – he’s a competitor, he’s a warrior, he wanted to be out there. Just praying for him to be healthy first.”
The Lions offered a handful of stories Sunday about the timeline of their decision to sit Stafford.
General manager Bob Quinn, in a hollow statement before the game – he declined to answer any questions when a group of reporters stopped him in a hallway outside of the press box – said Stafford wasn’t medically cleared to play after meeting with doctors on Sunday morning.
Patricia indicated in his postgame interview on WJR that he decided against putting Stafford on the field, saying “that getting the information that I got from our doctors and understanding what the risks were, it’s not worth it for me to put him in that situation.”
In his postgame interview with reporters, Patricia said Stafford underwent scheduled testing “through the course of the week” and the team decided Sunday morning “it wasn’t safe” to put him on the field.
Driskel said he found out he was starting Sunday morning, while Thomas and others said Patricia informed them of the decision Saturday.
“Today was the day we decided it wasn’t safe,” Patricia said.
Asked what changed from Friday, when Stafford was listed as questionable on the injury report after practicing on a limited basis, as he had all week, Patricia said, “Just meeting with the doctors and having that kind of consultation with them one more time and just deciding, that’s not a good thing to do. Cause he wanted to play.”
Instead of playing, Stafford spent the afternoon on the sideline in a team-issued camouflage hoodie and matching hat, helping Driskel figure out ways to attack the Bears’ vaunted defense.
On several occasions, Stafford cozied up next to Driskel, tablet in hand. And when the offense was on the field, Stafford spent much of his time next to third-string quarterback David Blough, with an earpiece in his left ear listening to play calls.
“I can’t speak for him, but I know I appreciated him on the sideline with me, offering support, things that he might see, things like that,” Driskel said. “He’s a great leader, a great teammate. Can’t say enough good things about him.”
Driskel, who started five games for the Cincinnati Bengals last season, completed 27 of 46 passes for a career-high 269 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and led the Lions with 37 yards rushing on five carries.
Though his play wasn’t as impressive as it might seem statistically, Driskel led two early field-goal drives that gave the Lions a 6-0 lead, and had them a play away from tying the ballgame late.
The Bears managed 25 yards of offense in their first four possessions but went to the locker room leading 7-6 after Mitchell Trubisky’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Ben Braunecker with 25 seconds left in the second quarter. They converted a fourth-and-1 at their own 29-yard line early in the drive.
Trubisky, who was booed by his hometown fans early Sunday, threw his second touchdown on the first drive of the second half, from 9 yards out to Tarik Cohen.
Allen Robinson beat Darius Slay for a 31-yard pass on the drive, and Slay was called for he called a “weak-ass” pass-interference penalty on the next play.
“I can blame that drive on me,” Slay said.
Driskel telegraphed an interception deep in Bears territory on the ensuing possession, and Trubisky followed with his third touchdown pass three plays later to give the Bears a 20-6 lead.
The Lions pulled within a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, when Driskel scrambled to avoid a sack and heaved a 47-yard bomb to Kenny Golladay. But Golladay and Danny Amendola dropped passes on the Lions’ next drive, Golladay was called for offensive pass interference on a play that negated a first-down pick-up, and Driskel’s desperation final heave into the end zone fell incomplete as time expired.
Trubisky, on thin ice as the Bears’ starting quarterback, finished 16 of 23 passing for 173 yards and three touchdowns, his first three-touchdown day since a November win over the Lions last year.
The Lions fell to last place in the NFC North, and Patricia said he considers Stafford “day by day, week by week,” going forward.
“All the talk that’s going to go on outside of our building doesn’t really matter to us,” Patricia said. “What matters to us is just coming in and working hard, trying to get better. I think that’s the biggest thing for us. I think if you start diving into all the other stuff, it’s just a lot of negativity right now for us that I want to look at our team and say, ‘Wow, we really came out and fought really hard.’ With everything else that’s going on and everything else that everyone’s going to try to pile onto the situation, those guys just played really hard for 60 minutes. They really tried everything they could to win. We didn’t execute maybe well enough in that situation, but I’m proud of how tough that team is. I’m proud of how much they come in every single day and work and go out and try to win. We just got to make some more plays.”
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.
Published at Mon, 11 Nov 2019 00:53:19 +0000