There's much to discuss following Detroit's loss to the Green Bay Packers, including a looming playoff matchup with the New Orleans Saints, a suddenly anemic defense and everything in between.
But let’s forget all of those storylines for a moment. Let’s take a step back and reflect on a surprisingly, seemingly overlooked aspect of the 2011 season: Matthew Stafford.
The 23-year-old Stafford had a truly remarkable campaign, throwing for more than 5,000 yards with 41 touchdown passes.
To put those numbers into perspective, only three other quarterbacks in league history have thrown for 5,000 yards in a single season while only five have thrown for more than 40 touchdowns in a season.
Stafford joined Dan Marino (1984) and Drew Brees (2011) as the only quarterbacks to throw for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in the same season.
To emphasize how impressive this truly is, outside of Marino, Stafford is five years younger than any of the other quarterbacks who have thrown for 40-plus touchdowns in a season (Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner and Aaron Rodgers were all 28 years old when they accomplished this feat) and six years younger than any quarterback that reached 5,000 passing yards in a season (Brees was 29 when he did in 2008).
In 1984, Marino was 23 years old and finished his first 16-game season in the NFL (it was his second career season). He completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns. In 2011, at the same age and also playing in his first full slate of games, Stafford completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns.
Simply put, Stafford had an incredibly productive season leading the team to 10 wins. Although a 10-win season is hardly impressive in the NFL, it does seem more substantial when you consider it is more wins than the Lions had in the three years prior combined.
The NFL is becoming more of a passing league and the Lions are part of a large group of teams that are influencing that trend. There is no doubt that Stafford’s numbers are partially inflated by the fact that he had an incredible 663 passing attempts. However, he proved that he should have the ball in his hands and that he is capable of being an elite NFL quarterback.
Before 2011, when three quarterbacks (Stafford, Rodgers and Brees) threw for 40-plus touchdowns, the 40-touchdown benchmark was reached five times. Brady did it in 2007 (50), Manning in 2004 (49), Marino in 1984 (48), Marino again in 1986 (44) and Kurt Warner in 1999 (41).
All of the above mentioned seasons, save for Marino’s in 1986, resulted in recognition as the league’s most valuable player. Matthew Stafford will not only not win the MVP award, but he wasn't even named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad. In fact, he was listed as the NFC’s third alternate.
For anyone who remains a supporter of Stafford’s snub or simply doesn’t believe Stafford is developing into an elite quarterback, looking at what he accomplished in 2011 should alter your opinion.
Stafford is a superstar quarterback in the making.
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