Mike O’Hara: Matthew Stafford’s first 16 games are Peyton-like


Mike O’Hara: NFL Monday countdown

Digging into their history books for comparisons suddenly has become a joy for the Lions instead of an exercise in self-inflicted torture.

Winning streaks and comebacks are replacing losing skids and blown leads.

It’s like walking through a haunted house and finding the ghosts and monsters have been replaced by genies granting unlimited wishes.

The Lions’ 3-0 start to this season, highlighted by Sunday’s 26-23 overtime victory at Minnesota, is fuel for a trek back in time.

Nowhere are the comparisons more valid — and more revealing — than at quarterback, where Matthew Stafford is displaying his elite talent and the psyche and makeup that separate the people who play quarterback from the ones who really are quarterbacks.

There’s a difference, and Stafford is proving he’s the real thing. He is a quarterback, not just playing the role.

This week’s Monday Countdown starts with the standard held out for Stafford when the Lions drafted him first overall in 2009. Peyton Manning, drafted first overall by the Colts in 1998, was considered the model for a rookie in his first 16 games.

There also is a look at how the Lions compare to some other Lions teams that had fast starts — notably the 1980 team — the impression they are making nationally, a dilemma facing coach Jim Schwartz with his offensive line, and the best and worst of the NFL.

Before the Stafford-Manning comparisons, we start with a comment on the Lions made Sunday by former Pro Bowl safety and Fox Network analyst John Lynch:

1. Lynch on the Lions: “I’m a believer,” he said. “The reason why you turn on the film, they do things good teams do.

“They dominate the defensive line. This is the best defensive line in football . . . They’re fun to watch.”

And that was before the game — not after the Lions had won in overtime, when Lynch’s view understandably could have been influenced by the comeback from a 20-0 deficit at halftime.

2. Stafford vs. Manning, first 16 starts: Stafford’s first 16 games vs. Manning’s first 16 isn’t a perfect comparison because of the time frame. Manning started all 16 games as a rookie. Because of injuries, Stafford didn’t start his 16th game until the third game of his third season.

Stafford matches up favorably. He also had three training camps to prepare while Manning had only one.

But the stats are what they are, as follows:

Manning — 56.7 completion rate, 3,739 yards and 6.5 yards per attempt, 26 TDs, 28 interceptions and a 71.2 passer rating. The Colts’ record was 3-13.

Stafford — 57.0 completion rate, 3,779 yards and 6.4 yards per attempt, 28 TDs, 23 interceptions and a 75.8 passer rating. The Lions’ record with Stafford as the starter is 6-10.

3. Stafford vs. Manning, first three games, third season:

Manning — 67.2 percent completion rate for 1,080 yards and 9.3 yards per attempt, 8 TDs, 3 interceptions, 109.1 passer rating and a 2-1 record.

Stafford – 66.9 percent completion rate for 977 yards and 8.3 yards per attempt, 9 TDs, 2 interceptions, 110.7 rating and a 3-0 record.

4. Manning’s 16-game third season totals: 33 TD passes, 15 interceptions, 10-6 record and a second straight playoff berth, as a wild card. The Colts won a division title in 1999 with as 13-3 record.

5. Stafford’s third-season projection: At his current rate Stafford will throw 48 TD passes, third-most in NFL history behind Tom Brady (50 in 2007) and Manning (49 in 2005).

Don’t expect that to happen, and it doesn’t matter.

The bottom-line standard for this season has to be winning, not Stafford’s passing totals, and that is the biggest reflection on how expectations have changed for the Lions. They are expected to win, which is a good problem.

6. 1980 Lions vs. 2011: The only comparison is in the records. In 1980 the Lions were 4-0 and 6-3, and players were singing their theme song “Another One Bites the Dust.” They faded to 9-7 and were getting mocked by opponents, who sang “Another One Beats their Butts.”

The biggest difference between the two teams is on offense. Billy Sims was a superstar running back as a rookie, but except for him and Dexter Bussey — who switched from tailback to fullback — there wasn’t a single player at the skilled positions on the 1980 team who could start for this year’s team.

7. Lions QB comparison, 1980 vs. 2011: Compare players from different eras is hard, but how they compared to their peers in a given years is valid.

Stafford rates eons ahead of Gary Danielson, the Lions’ starter in 1980.

Danielson had 13 TD passes against 11 interceptions, which put him well below the leaders in most categories.

Stave Bartkowski of Atlanta led the league with 31 TD passes. Dan Fouts of San Diego, Brian Sipe of Cleveland and Vince Ferragamo of the Los Angeles Rams tied for second with 30. Danielson was 11th in completion rate (58.5 percent compared to 64.5 for league-leader Joe Montana, in his second season with the 49ers), but Danielson was a solid seventh in passer rating (82.4, with Sipe No. 1 at 91.4).

8. Danielson vs. Manning: Danielson’s 1980 rating was one notch ahead of a Manning. Archie Manning, father of Peyton and Eli of the Giants, ranked eighth with a passer rating of 81.8.

9. Schwartz’s dilemma: It will be interesting to see how his offensive line unfolds, particularly at tackle.

After Game 1, right tackle Gosder Cherilus was benched as a starter and replaced by Corey Hilliard for taking a bad penalty late in the victory over the Bucs. Cherilus was reinstated Sunday but benched again after giving up a sack.

On the left side, Jeff Backus had probably the worst game of his career. He was beaten cleanly by Jared Allen for two sacks and penalized three times — two false starts late in regulation time, and a holding call early that was declined because Allen beat him for a sack on the play.

One issue for Schwartz is consistency in demoting players.

But the other is finding an alternative. And three games into the season, no team in the NFL can find better replacements for two starting tackles.

10. Backus injury: He has never missed a game — making 163 straight starts — for a reason. He’s tough and dependable. However, Backus missed most of this year’s training camp because of a torn left pectoral muscle sustained in an offseason workout.

On Allen’s two sacks, he beat Backus on the outside to his left — where Backus would punch with his left arm to force the pass-rusher to go wide. It’s fair to question whether Backus has regained the strength necessary to handle a top pass-rusher with speed.

In the next two games, he’ll go against the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware and the Bears’ Julius Peppers.

NFL’s best

1. Packers (3-0): Will they be unbeaten when they play the Lions on Thanksgiving Day?

2. Bills (3-0): Beating the Patriots counts for a lot.

3. Lions (3-0): The payoff is winning.

4. Raiders (2-1): Great runner (Darren McFadden), tough defense.

5. Patriots (2-1): Their defense is scary bad.

6. Saints (2-1): Drew Brees led a big win over a decent Houston team.

7. Ravens (2-1): Bounced back by hammering the Rams, as expected.

8. Redskins (2-0): I’m expecting a Monday night loss at Dallas.

9. Steelers (2-1): Winning by three at Indy isn’t impressive.

10. Chargers (2-1): Winning by three over KC at home is almost a loss.

11. Jets (2-1): Rex Ryan left his defense at home, but his mouth made the trip to Oakland.

12. Tampa Bay (2-1): They made the Falcons stumble again.

13. Giants (2-1): Winning at Philly is always hard.

NFL’s worst

28. Vikings (0-3): But they’re 3-0 in the first half. Who cares?

29. Rams (0-3): They have a young QB in Sam Bradford but not much else.

30. Colts (0-3): At least they gave Pittsburgh a battle.

31. Dolphins (0-3): Tony Sparano will be the first coach fired, and soon.

32. Chiefs (0-3): Home next week to face the Vikings in the Draft Bowl.

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