On a normal day, bringing up the 2007 NFL draft class of quarterbacks will probably remind people of Jamarcus Russell, perhaps even Brady Quinn. But you'd have a hard time finding anybody outside of the state of Michigan that would have Drew Stanton be the first to come to mind. And even then, it'd be a struggle. After all, being drafted after BYU's John Beck, who is on his third NFL team since that draft, isn't exactly what you would call an "unexpected slide."
Today was a different day.
The fifth quarterback taken in that draft once again took charge of the hapless Detroit Lions on Sunday, almost by default. Injuries to both first- and second-string quarterbacks once again relegated coach Jim Schwartz to Stanton, or a 24 year old rookie (Zac Robinson) that has been on the roster for just over a month. Stanton entered the game with the vaunted 26-game road losing streak. He entered the game with a precarious future (he's in a contract-year), one that appears dim in the shadow of a veteran ahead of him on the depth chart, and oh yeah, the first overall pick of the 2009 draft.
To put things in perspective, while Stanton has been starting the past few weeks, the attention has gone to the high-priced, rocket-armed individual who has, of late, only thrown lightly in practice.
Given his predicament, there's a certain a bit of pressure on Stanton, who not only started the year third-string at best, but was under the thinly-veiled assumption this year could be his last. Last with his hometown Lions, maybe his last in the league, period. He saw little action up until last season, again due to injuries. He finished 2009 with a stat-line that included six interceptions and zero passing touchdowns.
Today was a different day.
As the Farmington Hills-native and Michigan State grad broke the first huddle of a calm, partly cloudy Tampa afternoon, however, he started what was predicted to be 'just another Lions game', 'just another road loss,' and 'just another game' -- until Shaun Hill, or someone else, might be able to wear enough casts to be able start next week.
That first huddle broke and Stanton promptly completed the first pass of the day -- one that would mirror his last -- a 13-yard strike to Calvin Johnson. After two runs by Maurice Morris for six and seven yards respectively, the feeling of hope started rearing its beautiful, yet deceptive head as the sun broke through the overcast at Raymond James Stadium.
Drew Stanton led Detroit to its second consecutive win on Sunday.
Two poor throws later, any hope went back to hiding and the only positive, prevailing thought among Lions fans was probably that the only thing preventing the road losing streak from reaching an even 30 was the schedule not being long enough. There's always next year, though.
But today was a different day.
Had the Lions lost, it would have been an NFL record, set just recently by the very same team on its last road game. October 28, 2007 was when this date of ineptitude was started, or ended, depending on your outlook. It's been so long, in fact, that coach Jim Schwartz has yet to experience a road win as a head coach.
"It's really not a relief, but it's important for this team to win on the road," Schwartz said. "What's happened two years ago, what happened last year, three years ago, whatever it was, isn't important to this football team right now," Schwartz added. "Winning is important to this football team right now. Winning on the road is a step that we needed to take."
A step that was led by Stanton.
Trailing 14-10 as they departed half-time, Stanton quickly led the Lions on their second scoring drive of the contest, going 5-of-5 for twenty yards to give his team the advantage.
It wouldn't be the only time that Detroit would call on their former second-round pick. The former Matt Millen-draftee.
Today was a different day, after all.
After Tampa Bay managed a field goal to tie the game at 17-apiece, Stanton only had one minute and 39 seconds on the clock to battle multiple demons, among them: the road losing streak, his future, and the doubts of an entire city. He responded by promptly punching each in the mouth, marching his team, his city, and his future down the field to the Buccaneer 10-yard line.
After fellow former Spartan and kicker Dave Rayner sent the game into overtime, Stanton's redemption wasn't yet fulfilled.
Winning the coin toss being an omen of sorts, Detroit drove decisively down the field with huge help from the running game, but also huge help from its quarterback, who connected with Johnson on a monumental third-down conversion. As Rayner kicked the winning field goal, many around the nation were listening to the sounds of Tampa's playoff hopes deflating.
The state of Michigan, though, basked in the glow of shedding a monkey off of its back for the first time in three long, desperate years.
For Stanton, it was his second consecutive victory as a starter. He finished 23 of 37 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown. No interceptions. No sacks. No having to worry about what to tell the media about a ghost that has haunted the city for three years.
"I don't know how many opportunities I'm gonna get," said Stanton, "they were fading; hopefully this will do some stuff to improve that."
Today was a different day. For fans, for the franchise, for the entire NFL for that matter.
For Drew Stanton, it could be a future.