Winless Lions sticking with rookie QB Stafford despite miscues

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions knew they would have to live with mistakes when they decided to start rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Well, they're living with them.

Stafford has thrown five interceptions -- tying Carolina's Jake Delhomme for the most in the league -- and only one touchdown in two games for the winless Lions.

The Lions decided to let the No. 1 pick in the draft learn on the field, instead of putting him on the sideline to watch veteran Daunte Culpepper play in his 11th season.

It hasn't worked out so far, but coach Jim Schwartz insists he's happy with Stafford.

"He's our quarterback," Schwartz said Monday. "We're pleased with him. He's going to be a very good quarterback in this league and we're going to win with him."

Detroit desperately hopes that happens sooner rather than later.

If the Lions (0-2) lose Sunday at home against Washington (1-1), their 20-game losing streak will be the second-longest in league history and they'll get unwanted attention as they approach Tampa Bay's NFL record 26-game skid from the 1976-77 seasons.

Detroit became the NFL's first 0-16 team last season and used the first pick overall to take Stafford instead of Mark Sanchez, who is starting for the undefeated the New York Jets.

"We went in the draft, we liked both quarterbacks, we thought Matt was the right player to lead this team," Schwartz said. "We still do and I think when it's all said and done, we're going to be very happy in that decision."

Stafford has shown some positive signs, throwing laser-like passes deep down the field. He also made bad plays, trying to force a pass to a receiver instead of throwing it out of bounds or simply not seeing a defender standing between him and a target.

In Sunday's loss to Minnesota, Stafford rolled right and threw the ball toward Calvin Johnson and linebacker Chad Greenway intercepted it.

"I saw Calvin bounce his route inside, and I didn't see the linebacker," Stafford said.

Greenway looked like he was the intended receiver on the other interception because Stafford's pass went right to the linebacker.

"I was trying to make a play and I forced something that wasn't there," Stafford explained.

The good news perhaps for Stafford and the Lions is some star QBs who played right away also got off to rough starts.

Peyton Manning had six interceptions and two TDs in his first two games for Indianapolis in 1998. A decade earlier, Dallas' Troy Aikman threw four interceptions and one TD in his first two games. In 1983, Denver's John Elway was picked off once and didn't throw for a score in his first two games.

Stafford's first -- probably of many -- TD passes to Johnson midway through the second quarter Sunday gave Detroit a 10-0 lead over the Vikings before getting outscored 27-3.

"It's not important how you start a football game, it is important how you finish it, and we didn't finish well," Stafford said. "We need to play 60 good minutes, not 30."

When the Lions announced Stafford would take the first snaps in Week 1 at New Orleans, they said it wasn't an internship or an experiment.

But how long can they stick with Stafford, when a seemingly viable option is on the sideline, if he keeps making mistakes?

"I'm not going to put ourselves past this week when it comes to that," Schwartz said. "I have a lot of confidence in Matt's ability, not only as a player, but his ability to lead this team and his ability to help us win.

"I think he's going to be our quarterback, he is our quarterback, and we're all going to be very happy with him as a quarterback," Schwartz added.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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