On September 6, 2009, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz announced that Stafford would be the Lions' permanent starting quarterback heading into the 2009 season. Regarding his decision, Schwartz stated, "This isn't an internship or an experiment." Stafford beat out veteran Daunte Culpepper for the starting job. Stafford made his first start in the NFL on September 13, 2009. He was one of four rookie starters for the Lions joining Brandon Pettigrew, Louis Delmas, and Sammie Hill, in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints. He was the first Lions rookie quarterback to start the season since Greg Landry in 1968. He completed 16 of 37 passes for 205 yards and three interceptions; he was intercepted twice by Darren Sharper, the other time by Scott Shanle. He ran in a one-yard touchdown early in the third quarter. In the following game, a 27–13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Stafford threw his first career touchdown pass on an eight-yard completion to Calvin Johnson. He recorded his first win as a Lion in the next game against the Washington Redskins. He passed for 241 yards and a touchdown in the 19–14 victory. The win was significant for the Lions' as it snapped a 19-game losing streak going back to the 2007 season. In Week 9, against the Seattle Seahawks, Stafford recorded 203 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, and a career-high five interceptions in the 32–20 loss.
John Matthew Stafford (born February 7, 1988) is an American football quarterback for the Detroit Lions of the National Football League (NFL). He was raised in Highland Park, Texas, where he attended Highland Park High School. He then attended the University of Georgia, where he played for the Bulldogs from 2006 to 2008 before being drafted by the Lions first overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Stafford graduated early from high school and enrolled at the University of Georgia in January, where he became the first true freshman quarterback to start for the Georgia Bulldogs football team since Quincy Carter in 1998, and first out of high school to start since Eric Zeier in 1991. Stafford wore number 7 at Georgia. He completed five of 12 passes for 102 yards and one touchdown in a Georgia spring game.
In 2005, he led his team to a perfect 15–0 record and won the UIL 4A Division I State Championship. During the playoff run, Stafford beat Ryan Mallett's Texarkana Texas 38–31, as well as Jevan Snead's Stephenville 41–38. Stafford had over 4,000 yards passing despite not playing in the first three games of the season due to a knee injury. Stafford received numerous accolades, including being named to the Parade All-America Team and the USA Today Pre-Season Super 25 in 2005. He also won the MVP and Best Arm awards at the 2005 EA Sports Elite 11 Quarterback Camp and was named the 2005 EA Sports National Player of the Year. Regarded as a five-star recruit by Rivals.com, Stafford was listed as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback prospect in the class of 2006 by Rivals.com.
Football analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. on ESPN Radio in September 2006.
Stafford was chosen to Athlon Sports' preseason Heisman Favorites Others To Watch list. Georgia was ranked #1 in both the preseason coaches poll and the AP Poll, marking the first time Georgia has ever been #1 in the preseason version of either poll. The team also entered the 2008 season with the longest active winning streak among the 66 BCS conference teams, having won its last seven games of the 2007 season. He helped lead them to victories in their first four games to move the winning streak to 11. Stafford and the Bulldogs suffered their first setback in a 41–30 loss to #8 Alabama. Stafford rebounded by helping lead the team to victories in five of the next six games, the lone exception being a 49–10 loss to #5 Florida. In that stretch, he threw for over 300 yards in victories over Tennessee and Kentucky. In the final regular season game against Georgia Tech, Stafford completed 24 out of 39 attempts for 407 yards and five touchdowns, setting a personal collegiate highs for passing yards and touchdowns in a single game, albeit a 45–42 loss. Stafford finished the season with a conference-leading 235 pass completions for 3,459 passing yards, the second most in school history, and 25 touchdowns, the single-season record for passing touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown in 2008. He led the SEC in pass attempts and passing completions while finishing third for passing touchdowns. Georgia finished the regular season with a 9–3 mark and qualified for the Capitol One Bowl. After defeating Michigan State 24–12 and winning the MVP of the 2009 Capital One Bowl, Stafford finished his three years at Georgia with a 3–0 record in bowl games and a 6–3 record in rivalry games (1–2 against Florida, 3–0 against Auburn, and 2–1 against Georgia Tech). Stafford chose to forgo his senior season and entered the 2009 NFL Draft.
In April 2008, several NFL analysts predicted Stafford would be the #1 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft if he chose to leave school early. He eventually did, and on April 24, 2009, agreed to record contract terms with the Detroit Lions to become the first overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, one day before the draft was held. The six-year contract reportedly contained $41.7 million in guaranteed money (the most guaranteed to any player in NFL history until July 30, 2010, when quarterback Sam Bradford signed a deal with $50 million guaranteed) and carried a total value of up to $78 million. Detroit negotiated a deal with Stafford on April 24, 2009, less than 24 hours before the draft.
Stafford started the 2016 season off with a strong performance against the Indianapolis Colts. In the 39–35 victory, he finished with 340 passing yards and three touchdowns. The Lions followed that up with three consecutive losses before getting a narrow 24–23 win over the Philadelphia Eagles to have a 2–3 record. In the win over the Eagles, Stafford was 19-of-25 for 180 yards and three touchdowns. In the next game, against the Los Angeles Rams, he had 270 passing yards and four touchdowns in the 31–28 victory. On December 11, 2016, Stafford broke Peyton Manning's NFL record of most fourth quarter comebacks in a season with eight. In his career, he has 25 such victories, the most in the NFL since he made his debut in 2009. Stafford got the Lions to a 9–4 start but he suffered a hand injury in Week 14 and lost the last three games of the season to finish 9–7. They managed to get the sixth seed in the playoffs, only to lose to the Seattle Seahawks 26–6 in the Wild Card Round. Stafford passed for 206 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in the loss. Stafford ended the season with 4,327 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions — his sixth consecutive season with at least 4,000 passing yards. He also reached the 30,000 career passing yards milestone. He was ranked 31st by his peers on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2017.
On November 22, 2009, Stafford threw five touchdowns in a 38–37 win over the Cleveland Browns, becoming the youngest quarterback ever to do so, being more than a year younger than the former record holder, Dan Marino. In a thrilling ending, Stafford received high acclaim when he stepped back onto the field despite team doctors' urge to stay on the sideline after suffering a separated shoulder on the previous play and threw the final touchdown pass as time expired. In addition to the five touchdown passes, Stafford accumulated 422 yards passing, a record for a rookie at that time. For his performance, Stafford won NFC Offensive Player of the Week and Pepsi Rookie of the Week. Stafford was mic'd up for the game for NFL Films. The show's creator Steve Sabol said it was the most dramatic performance he's seen in the show's 30-year history. To begin Week 12 on Thanksgiving Day, Stafford went 20 of 43 for 213 yards with a touchdown pass but threw four interceptions in the 34–12 loss against the Green Bay Packers. In Week 13, Stafford went 11-of-26 for 143 yards with a touchdown but threw two interceptions in the 23–13 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals.
Stafford was the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards in a single season, being one of three players to do it in 2011, and was the fastest player in NFL history to reach 40,000 yards in (147 games). Stafford also holds the NFL record for the most comeback wins in a season, recording eight in the 2016 NFL season. Stafford ranks in the top 20 all-time in pass attempts, completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns, and ranks third all-time in passing yards per game. In 2017, he signed a $135-million contract extension with the Lions, making him the highest-paid player in NFL history at the time.
On January 1, 2012, Stafford became the fourth quarterback in NFL history and third in the 2011 season, along with Tom Brady and Drew Brees, to throw for 5,000 passing yards in a season after recording a career-high 520 passing yards against the Green Bay Packers in a 45–41 loss in Week 17. In this game, Stafford threw an interception on an attempted 37-yard touchdown pass that, had he been successful, he would've broken Norm Van Brocklin's record for most yards in a game. The accomplishment made Stafford the second-youngest quarterback in NFL history, at the age of 23 years and 328 days, to reach 5,000 yards, behind only Dan Marino. Stafford became the first player in Lions' franchise history to have two games in a single season with at least five passing touchdowns. Over the last four games of the 2011 regular season, Stafford became the only quarterback in NFL history to pass for over 1,500 yards (1,511) and 14 touchdowns over a four-game span. Stafford and the Lions finished the regular season with a 10–6 record, good enough for the Lions to make their first playoff appearance since 1999.
On July 7, 2013, Stafford agreed to a three-year, $53 million extension with the Lions. He was guaranteed $41.5 million through 2017.
On January 14, 2014, the Lions announced Jim Caldwell as their new head coach. The Lions rebounded from a disappointing 2013 campaign by finishing with an 11–5 record, thus earning the NFC's 6th seed, their first playoff appearance since 2011. In Week 13, against the Chicago Bears, he passed for a season-high 390 passing yards and two passing touchdowns in the 34–17 victory. He started the 2014 season off strong with 346 passing yards and two passing touchdowns in a 35–14 victory over the New York Giants. He led the NFL with five game-winning drives. Stafford finished the 2014 season with 4,257 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, to go along with a QB rating of 85.7.
In 2015, Stafford donated $1 million to the S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center. In 2018, Stafford was the Lions' Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee.
On January 4, 2015, Stafford and the Lions went against the Dallas Cowboys, in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. After the Lions had a 20–7 lead in the third quarter, the Cowboys scored 17 unanswered points to win 24–20. In the fourth quarter, with the Lions up 20–17, Stafford threw a pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The ball hit Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens on the back. Pass interference was initially called on the Cowboys. However, the officials reversed the call on the series that ended up being crucial as the Lions were forced to punt later on the drive. Stafford threw 323 passing yards, one touchdown, and one interception in the loss.
On January 19, 2015, it was announced that Stafford was selected to the 2015 Pro Bowl, his first Pro Bowl appearance. He would be replacing Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos, due to a quad injury. For the game, he was named Pro Bowl Offensive MVP, with 316 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
At Georgia, Stafford met cheerleader Kelly Hall, the sister of former NFL player and current Buffalo Bills wide receivers coach Chad Hall. They were married on April 4, 2015, and have four daughters. In April 2019, Kelly Stafford revealed on Instagram that she had a brain tumor. She underwent a 12-hour surgery on April 21. Stafford took time off from being with the Lions, as training camp started up shortly after Kelly's surgery.
The 2015 season started rough for Stafford and the Lions with a 0–5 start. In the stretch, Stafford passed for six touchdowns and eight interceptions to go along with an average of 241 passing yards per game. The Lions got their first victory against the Chicago Bears in Week 6, with Stafford recording 405 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, and one interception in the 37–34 overtime result. In Week 12, against the Philadelphia Eagles, Stafford passed for 337 yards and five passing touchdowns in the 45–14 victory. It was the fourth time in Stafford's career with a five-touchdown game, becoming the tenth player in NFL history to pull off the feat. On December 13, 2015, in Week 14 against the St. Louis Rams, Stafford reached 25,000 passing yards in his 90th career game, becoming the fastest quarterback to reach this milestone, surpassing the previous record held by Dan Marino of 92 games. On December 21, Stafford posted a single-game career high in passer rating, and broke Jon Kitna's single-game franchise record with an 88.0 completion percentage. He completed 22 of 25 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns to give him a career-high 148.6 passer rating in a Week 15 35–27 win over the New Orleans Saints. Stafford became the first quarterback in NFL history to complete 60 percent or more of his passes in all 16 games. Despite Stafford's success, the Lions finished with a 7–9 record and missed the playoffs.
On September 10, in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals, Stafford finished with 292 passing yards, four touchdowns, and an interception as the Lions rallied and won by a score of 35–23. It was his 27th fourth quarter/overtime comeback since 2011, the most in the league. In Week 2, on Monday Night Football, Stafford threw his 193rd career touchdown pass in a win over the New York Giants, passing Bob Griese for 48th on the all time touchdown pass list. On October 29, in Week 8 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Stafford became the only player in NFL history to throw for more than 400 yards and no touchdowns in two different games. On November 6, in Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers, Stafford recorded his 200th career touchdown in the first quarter of the game, becoming the fourth quarterback in NFL history to do so before the age of 30, joining Brett Favre, Dan Marino, and Peyton Manning. During Week 13 against the Baltimore Ravens, Stafford had 292 passing yards, a touchdown, and an interception until leaving the game with a bruised right hand. The Lions lost 20–44. On December 31, in Week 17 against the Green Bay Packers, Stafford recorded his 3,000th career completion in his 125th career game, becoming the fastest player to reach the milestone in NFL history. The Lions finished with a 9–7 record, which did not qualify for the playoffs. Stafford ended the season with 4,446 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions — his seventh consecutive season with at least 4,000 passing yards. He led the NFC in passing yards in 2017. He was ranked 31st by his peers for the second consecutive year on the list of the Top 100 NFL Players of 2018.
On August 28, 2017, Stafford signed a 5-year, $135 million extension with $92 million guaranteed, making him the highest-paid player in NFL history at the time.
In Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals, Stafford threw for 385 yards and three touchdowns in the 27–27 tie game. In Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers, Stafford threw for 245 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions as the Lions won 13–10. In Week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles, Stafford threw for 201 yards and one touchdown, completing 18 of 32 passes in the 27–24 win. In Week 4, against the Kansas City Chiefs, he passed for 289 yards and three touchdowns in the 34–30 loss. On October 20, 2019, against the Minnesota Vikings, Stafford threw for 364 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception in the 42–30 loss. In the game, Stafford reached 40,000 passing yards in his 147th career game, becoming the fastest quarterback to the reach the milestone. In a Week 8 game against the New York Giants, he had 342 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, and one interception in the 31–26 victory. On November 10, 2019, Stafford missed his first game since 2010, ending his streak of 136 consecutive regular-season starts. Stafford's streak was the sixth-longest for a quarterback in league history. It was eventually revealed that Stafford was diagnosed with non-displaced fractures in his upper thoracic spine, causing him to miss more time than usual. On December 18, 2019, Stafford was placed on injured reserve after missing the previous six games and the Lions missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Stafford made his return from injury in Week 1 against the Chicago Bears. During the game, Stafford threw for 297 yards, one touchdown, and one interception as the Lions lost 27–23. In Week 3 against the Arizona Cardinals, Stafford threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns during the 26–23 win. This was the Lions' first win since October 27, 2019. In Week 7 against the Atlanta Falcons, Stafford threw for 340 yards and the game winning touchdown to tight end T. J. Hockenson with no time left on the clock during the 23–22 win. In Week 8 against the Indianapolis Colts, Stafford threw for 336 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an interception returned for a touchdown during the 41–21 loss.
On November 4, 2020, Stafford was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list again after being a high-risk close contact with a non-team person who tested positive for COVID-19. On November 7, 2020, Stafford was removed from the COVID-19 list after he came back negative for the virus and was cleared for the Lions week 9 game against the Minnesota Vikings. Against the Vikings, Stafford threw for 211 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions before leaving the game in the 4th quarter and was evaluated for a concussion. The Lions would lose 34–20.