Has Matthew Stafford lost his way? 'He used to be this killer'

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This was supposed to be Matthew Stafford's season. He was among the favorites for Comeback Player of the Year. He was a darkhorse pick for MVP. He was ... the best QB in the NFC North.

Remember all that?

Well here we are again. The Lions are 1-3 a quarter of the way through the season, and Stafford is part of the reason why. The biggest reason? Not even close. That would be Detroit's defense -- Matt Patricia's defense -- for the second year in a row.

But Stafford would be the first to tell you he hasn't been good enough. He stumbled at key moments in Detroit's first two losses. And he stalled for a long portion of Sunday's loss to the Saints while Drew Brees led his team on five straight touchdown drives.

It's a bit early in the year to say Stafford has regressed. But after playing the best football of his career through the first eight games of last season, he certainly hasn't lit things up like expected. Detroit's offense doesn't look as explosive as a whole.

"I feel like myself," Stafford said Sunday. "Obviously we haven’t hit some of the bigger plays down the field that we did last year, but by no means am I feeling any different than I was."

If Stafford feels the same, he doesn't look it -- at least not to one of his close friends and former teammates. In an interview Monday on the Pat McAfee show, Dan Orlovsky wondered whether Stafford has finally lost his fire thanks to all the wasted seasons in Detroit.

"Here’s the truth. Matty’s my boy and I love him like a family member, but it feels like they’ve taken his killer instinct away sometimes when I watch him play right now," Orlovsky said. "He used to be this killer. I don't know if they’ve kind of peeled that away and he’s just been beat up for so long -- I think 12 years now. He’s gotta be so sick and tired of losing."

Stafford was visibly upset on the sidelines a couple times against the Saints. But mostly he seemed mad at himself. He missed his target on multiple deep balls -- the kind of throws he was nailing in 2019 -- and under-threw T.J. Hockenson on a pass that was picked off in the endzone.

"It’s an emotional game, a passionate game. I’m trying to make sure I’m out there doing my best every single time," Stafford said. "And there’s times, probably if you see frustration, it’s probably for myself. Just wish I could’ve been better today to help us win.”

The flip side is that the Lions have done so little to help Stafford. It's not for lack of effort, but the organization has rarely surrounded him with the pieces for sustained success. That, more than anything else, is why Stafford is 12 games under .500 in the 12th season of his career.

For the first time since he arrived in Detroit, there are legitimate questions as to whether Stafford might be on his way out. If a new regime takes over the front office next season (or sooner), the franchise and its franchise quarterback might be best served going their separate ways.

The Lions are looking at a lengthy rebuild either way.

"What happens if they move on from Matt Patricia -- I don’t know if they do that -- and what happens if a new coach wants a new quarterback?" Orlovsky said. "Who’s that quarterback going to be? What do they do with Matthew Stafford? Is it going to take longer to rebuild with a young quarterback? I would say yes.

"So I think there are a lot (more) question marks hanging over the Lions organization right now than there were four or five weeks ago."