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What’s Wrong With Matthew Stafford?

It’s still hard to wrap my head around last night’s loss to the Ravens, but I’m doing my best. Justin Tucker’s 61-yard field goal may have won the game, but it really shouldn’t have. Matthew Stafford has been mired in a serious fourth quarter slump the past few weeks, which continued last night. Although he threw for what was then the go-ahead touchdown with just over two minutes left, Stafford also threw two costly interceptions in the fourth quarter.

With the Lions now in third place in the NFC North, and needing A LOT of help to make the playoffs, we can’t look at Stafford with the rose-colored glasses that we have been since he came to Detroit. Yes, Stafford guided the team to the playoffs in 2011, and has been a stabilizing force in a massive rebuilding project for the Lions, but it all means nothing if he can’t close out a game.

Case in point: the Lions have held fourth quarter leads in each of their last four losses. In those four losses, Stafford has thrown four interceptions and lost a fumble. To put that in perspective, in the Lions’ seven wins this season, Stafford has thrown one interception and lost zero fumbles.

It’s also worth noting that over their last four losses, the Lions have only been outscored by a total of 29 points. In other words, their last four losses have been by just a touchdown on average. It’s unfair to say that the Lions would have scored on those fourth quarter drives in which he turned the ball over, but if you think back to the Tampa Bay loss, some have come on the verge of tying the game or taking the lead.

This slump that Stafford has fallen into has really taken away from a very good season, especially late in games. For the season, Stafford has nine touchdowns, five interceptions, his second-highest quarter rating (86.9), and his second-highest quarter yardage (1,192 yards) in the fourth quarter. Subtract the fourth quarter numbers from the team’s last four losses, and Stafford has eight touchdowns to just one interception. With just one touchdown and four interceptions in his last four fourth quarter losses, it’s no wonder the Lions have only scored 12 points in those losses.

Stafford’s inability to close a game has unfortunately been a microcosm of the Lions’ second half as a whole. Detroit has gone 2-4 since their bye week in Week 9, while Stafford’s numbers have dipped considerably. Take a look at the following splits:

First 8 games: 2,617 yards, 62.4 completion %age, 16 TDs, 6 INTs, 94.8 rating.

Last 6 games: 1,594 yards, 51.1 completion %age, 12 TDs, 11 INTs, 72.1 rating.

It makes sense that with the quarterback’s struggles come the team’s struggles, and that’s exactly what we have seen with the Lions since their bye week. What this has meant for the Lions is the inability to take advantage of key Bears and Packers injuries, as well as weak opponents and countless opportunities to win close games en route to a division title. It all caught up with the Lions last night.

For those with some faith left, the Lions can still make the playoffs. It will take two wins in their last two games, and some help from the Bears and Packers, but it is do-able. They will need Stafford to step up in the fourth quarter, though. If Stafford can’t right the ship and hold onto a fourth quarter lead, the Lions will be watching the playoffs from home.

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