NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Matthew Stafford learned a while ago that as the quarterback, he better be ready to accept plenty of blame when his team loses.
Over the past two seasons, Stafford has thrown for more than 10,000 yards, but he still faces questions about how far he can lead the Detroit Lions after the team’s terrible 2012.
Detroit dropped eight straight games to finish the season.
As Stafford tries to engineer a turnaround, the former No. 1 draft pick insists the pressure he feels right now is nothing new.
“I’ve had it since I was 15. I’m kind of used to it,” Stafford said. “This is a team sport, but at the same time, in this league especially, if your quarterback plays well, you’ve got a chance to win the game. I’m no stranger to that.”
For his first two years in the NFL, poor health was Stafford’s main obstacle.
He overcame those injury problems, playing all 16 games each of the past two seasons — but now his performance is the issue.
In 2011, Stafford threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns, leading the Lions to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth. He passed for 4,967 yards last season, but the Lions went 4-12, and Stafford threw for only 20 TDs with 17 interceptions.
With this weekend’s season opener against Minnesota approaching, Stafford is having to downplay an underwhelming preseason. Detroit went 3-1, including blowout wins over New England and Buffalo, but Stafford completed only 49 percent of his passes.
“You don’t really gauge progression from year to year on how you play in the preseason,” Stafford said. “It’s not meaningless. Obviously, you want to play as good as you possibly can, but we had guys coming into new roles and playing roles that frankly they’re probably not going to play once certain guys on our team are back in the game.”
Star receiver Calvin Johnson sat out the last three preseason games with a bruised knee, but he was on the field at practice Tuesday, and the Lions are looking forward to having Stafford, Johnson and newly acquired running back Reggie Bush working together on offense.
“Knocking on wood, we are extremely healthy right now, which means guys are going to be flying around,” receiver Nate Burleson said.
“We’ll be playing at a different speed than you guys have seen over the last four weeks, which is kind of why you’ve been seeing guys walking around with smiles on their faces and not getting too caught up in productivity from certain groups offensively.”
The first-team offense will obviously look different with Johnson in the game, but against top competition, Stafford still has a lot to prove.
In his career, he’s 1-22 against teams that went on to finish above .500, according to STATS. Against everyone else, he’s 16-6.
Individually, his statistical breakdown looks less alarming. Against teams that finished over .500, he’s completed 58 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 77.8. Against lesser teams, his completion rate is 62 and his passer rating is 88.3.
So he’s struggled a bit more against better competition — but perhaps not to the degree that’s generally perceived.
What Stafford needs to do now is help Detroit to a few more wins. He and Johnson remain one of the league’s most feared tandems, but all those yards could be reduced to footnote status if the Lions aren’t competing for a postseason spot on a consistent basis.
“I’ve been through a 10-6 season, been through a 4-12 season — seen just how close that difference is, as far as what a quarterback can do to help his team win or lose,” he said. “I’m determined to be on the winning end of it.”
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