With the Lions sitting at 3-6-1, and their playoff chances just waiting for the math to catch up to the reality that they'll be at home in January, it's fair to ponder whether Detroit should simply shut down Stafford for the balance of the season and allow him to recover fully.
The 31-year-old signal-caller, however, will have none of it.
"Because this is what I do," Stafford said Wednesday when asked why he should play again in 2019, via the team's official website. "I understand your question, but this is what I love to do. I love playing football. I appreciate all the hard work that all the guys in this locker room and in this organization put into going out there and trying to win games on Sunday and I love being a part of that."
Stafford was in the midst of one of his best seasons as a pro, dive-bombing defenses with an entertaining and splashy offense that could score seemingly at any moment. Unleashed under Darrell Bevell after years of being shackled, Stafford generated 2,499 passing yards through eight games, with 19 TDs, five INTs, a career-high 8.6 yards per pass average and 41 completions of 20-plus yards, which are most in the NFL. Despite missing the past two games, Stafford remains just one of three QBs with three or more TD passes in five or more games, joining just Dak Prescott and Patrick Mahomes.
Stafford had his 136-game start streak snapped after testing revealed tiny fractures in the transverse process of his back, similar to what Tony Romo dealt with years ago. After sitting out practice once again Wednesday, the QB is in jeopardy of missing his third straight tilt.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the back issue could keep Stafford out around six weeks.
Even if Jeff Driskel keeps the offense running competently enough until the point Stafford could return, the insanely porous defense won't likely defy enormous odds against making the postseason. Given Stafford dealt with a back issue late last season that visibly affected his play, perhaps allowing him extra time to fully heal would be the prudent move for Detroit in another lost season.
Stafford, for his part, will battle to get back on the field.
"I just know the work that I put into every season and I want to get as many chances as I can to play with these guys as I possibly can," Stafford said. "That's really just how I think about it. If I'm healthy enough to go play, I'm going to go play."
It might not make sense to those of us not putting on pads each week, but Stafford's sentiment undoubtedly will play well within Detroit's locker room. A leader should want to suit up with his teammates as many times as he can and go to battle. If others are putting their bodies on the line each week, why not the general?
Stafford wants to play. As a competitor, that's admirable. For the Lions, though, it's up to the team brass to determine if allowing their best player to battle back is the right move in the short and long term.