Edson: For Lions, Stafford is Worth the Big Money

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

The Detroit Lions are full of optimism as they come out for their home opener.

Then – right off the bat – they throw an interception that gets returned for a touchdown.

The Lions punter then muffs a snap in his own end zone and is hurt trying to run the ball for a first down.

At that point Sunday you could hear Lions fans across the state shout at their TV sets – “Same Old Lions!” and maybe some colorful language to go along with it.

But what happened after that is something we haven’t seen very often. The Lions defense came up with a couple big stops to keep their team in the game.

Matthew Stafford, who recently signed a $135-million contract extension, came up big after that. He finished the day with four touchdown passes, hitting 29-of-41 passes for 292 yards.

Two of the four TD passes were to third round pick Kenny Golladay of Northern Illinois. Golladay had four catches for 69 yards and Golden Tate had 10 catches for 107 yards.

Is it too early in the season to hang a nickname on Golden and Golladay? Maybe the G-Men?

I know the offense gets most of the credit for a 35-23 win over Arizona.

But last year as we were writing about the Lions after their playoff loss, we talked about the team needed defensive playmakers.

They had plenty on Sunday, starting with safeties Tavon Wilson, Glove Quin and Miles Killebrew, who all had key interceptions. Killebrew returned his for a touchdown.

This is a Lions defense that finished 28th in the NFL last year with only 14 takeaways. They had four against Arizona.

In fact, they turned those four turnovers into 19 points. So it was the defense that kept the game close.

Then it was up to Stafford to work his magic. And he came through again, delivering his 29th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.

It’s not just the big statistics that makes Stafford contract stand up. It’s his confidence and his ability to carry the load when the team needs him.

He showed that confidence after tossing a first quarter interception that Arizona’s Justin Bethel returned 82 yards for a touchdown.

Some quarterbacks would have gone into a funk if they started the season like that. But Stafford knows all too well it’s not how you start a game that counts.

It’s how you finish a game. And there are few quarterbacks in the NFL better than Stafford at pulling that off.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.