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Stafford is 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 is 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. In 2017, he signed a $135-million contract extension with the Lions, making him the highest-paid player in NFL history at the time.
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 SportsElite 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.
Before he had even started a game at the collegiate level, analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. predicted, correctly, that Stafford would eventually be the first pick in the 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.
Stafford debuted late in the season opener of the 2006 season against Western Kentucky and went 3 of 5 passing for 40 yards and a touchdown pass in the 48-12 victory. During the season's third game, against South Carolina, starting quarterback Joe Tereshinski III was injured, forcing Stafford to come off the bench. Although he completed just 8 of 19 passes for 171 yards and three interceptions, Georgia won the game, 18-0. Against University of Alabama Birmingham the following week, Stafford made his first collegiate start. Georgia won, 34-0. Victories over Colorado and Ole Miss improved Georgia's record to 5-0, but the heart of the conference schedule loomed.
The rest of the season was inconsistent for Stafford and the Bulldogs. Following home losses to both Tennessee and Vanderbilt, head coach Mark Richt named Stafford the starter for the rest of the season ahead of Tereshinski. Stafford completed 20 of 32 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-24 win over Mississippi State, and was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for his efforts. Statistically, he had his best game of the season against the #5 Auburn Tigers. Stafford finished the game 14 of 20 for 219 yards and a touchdown, and added 83 rushing yards and a touchdown on seven carries in Georgia's 37-15 upset win. The following week, Stafford led the Bulldogs on a 12-play, 64-yard drive and threw the game-winning touchdown pass in Georgia's 15-12 win over #16 Georgia Tech.
Stafford completed his freshman season by leading Georgia to a 31-24 come-from-behind victory over Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, after the Bulldogs trailed 21-3 at halftime. Stafford threw for 129 yards and a second half touchdown to spark the comeback and allow Georgia to finish the season with a 9-4 record. Stafford finished with 1,749 passing yards, seven touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
Stafford threw for 234 yards and two touchdowns as the Bulldogs defeated the Oklahoma State Cowboys 35-14 in the season opener. Against Alabama, the Bulldogs avoided an 0-2 start in SEC play by escaping Bryant-Denny Stadium with an overtime win. Stafford connected with senior wide receiver Mikey Henderson on the Bulldogs' first play from scrimmage in overtime for the winning score. In the win over #9 Florida, he completed 11 of 18 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns, including a career-long touchdown pass of 84 yards to Mohamed Massaquoi and a 53-yard touchdown pass to Henderson. The wins over Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech marked the first time that Georgia had defeated all three rivals in the same season since 1982.
Stafford had 175 yards passing and a touchdown pass during Georgia's 41-10 rout of the #10 Hawaii Warriors in the 2008 Sugar Bowl. He completed 194 of 348 passes for 2,523 yards (194.1/game) and 19 touchdowns as well as two rushing touchdowns for the season. He finished fifth in the SEC in pass completions and sixth in passing touchdowns. Stafford helped lead Georgia to an 11-2 record, their best mark since the 2002 season.
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. 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 record for 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.
Awards and honors
Named SEC Freshman of the Week twice during the 2006 season
Named Rivals.com's National Freshman of the Week for his performance against Auburn on November 11, 2006
Received the University of Georgia's 2006 Offensive Newcomer of the Year Award
Named to the 2006 SEC Coaches' All-Freshman Team
Stafford's 25 touchdown passes in 2008 broke the previous Georgia record of 24, set by D. J. Shockley (2005) and Eric Zeier (1993, 1994).
Stafford's 3,459 yards passing in 2008 were second-most in Georgia history, surpassed only by Zeier's 3,525 yards in 1993.
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.
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 (Brandon Pettigrew, Louis Delmas, and Sammie Hill) in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints, and 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 also ran in a one-yard touchdown.
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 placed on injured reserve on December 24 for the minor knee injury. Stafford concluded his rookie season having passed for 2,267 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions. In all 10 of the games he started for the Lions, he either threw or ran for a touchdown despite the Lions finishing the season 2-8 in games that he started in. The Lions did not win another game without Stafford and finished with a 2-14 record overall.
Stafford with the Lions in 2010.
After throwing for 83 yards in the first half, Stafford injured his right shoulder in the season opener against the Chicago Bears on September 12. Stafford returned on October 31 against the Washington Redskins and threw four touchdowns to lead the Lions to a 37-25 win. On November 7, Stafford re-injured his right shoulder in the fourth quarter of the Lions 23-20 OT loss to the New York Jets after throwing for 240 yards, two touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown. The Lions announced that Dr. James Andrews had performed surgery on Stafford's throwing shoulder, which included an AC joint repair and a clavicle shaving. The surgery ended his 2010 season, leaving the Lions at 1-2 in games he started and bringing his career total with the Lions to 3-10. The Lions finished out the 2010 season with a 6-10 record and missed the playoffs.
The Lions opened the season on September 11 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with high expectations. Stafford played well, throwing for 305 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception in a 27-20 win, the first season opener the Lions had won since 2007. Another strong performance followed, with Stafford throwing for four touchdowns, 294 yards, and an interception against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, leading the Lions to a 48-3 blowout victory, the largest win margin in team history. Stafford won the FedEx Air NFL Player of the Week for his performance. In Weeks 3 and 4, Stafford led the team to consecutive comeback victories, a 26-23 overtime comeback victory over the Minnesota Vikings after trailing 20-0 at halftime in Week 3, and a 34-30 win over the Dallas Cowboys after trailing 27-3 with 12:27 left in the third quarter.
Week 5 saw Stafford orchestrate a 24-13 win over the Chicago Bears, going 19 of 26 for 219 yards and two touchdowns. This marked the first time the Lions had gone 5-0 since 1956, the year before they won their last NFL Championship. In Week 10 against the Bears, Stafford threw four interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns on consecutive drives. The game was marred by a brawl that began when Stafford threw Bears cornerback D. J. Moore to the ground by his helmet during a block on an interception return. In response, Moore attacked Stafford and a sideline-clearing brawl ensued. Stafford was fined $7,500 for his role in the brawl.
On November 20, Stafford threw for 335 yards and five touchdowns as the Lions defeated the Carolina Panthers in another comeback, 49-35, after trailing 24-7 in the second quarter. Stafford became the first quarterback since at least 1950 to win back to back games after trailing by at least 20 points, the first to win three games in a season after trailing by at least 17 points, and the first to win four games in a season after trailing by at least 13 points according to STATS, LLC. (Data before 1950 is incomplete.)
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-yd 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 to reach 5,000 yards, behind only Dan Marino. 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.
During the Wild Card Round in the playoffs against the New Orleans Saints, Stafford threw for 380 yards with three touchdown passes and added a rushing touchdown. However, he threw two late interceptions in the fourth quarter that sealed the loss for the Lions, as they were defeated, 45-28.
Stafford was named a Pro Bowl alternate for the NFC after the 2011 NFL season. He was later named the 2011 Pro Football Weekly Comeback Player of the Year, AP Comeback Player of the Year, and NFL Alumni Quarterback of the Year. He was ranked 41st by his fellow players on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2012.
Stafford finished the season with 20 touchdown passes, significantly less compared to the 41 touchdowns he passed for in the 2011 season; 17 interceptions, one more than 2011, and second most in his career since his rookie season; 4,967 passing yards on 727 attempts (an NFL record; the previous record was 691 by Drew Bledsoe); and a QB rating of 79.8, the lowest since his rookie season. He rushed for a career-high 126 yards and four rushing touchdowns on 35 carries. He was ranked #76 among his fellow players on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2013.
On July 7, 2013, Stafford agreed to a three-year, $53 million extension with the Lions. He was guaranteed $41.5 million through 2017.
Stafford completed 23-of-35 passes for 242 yards, one touchdown, and one interception on September 29 in a 40-32 win against the Chicago Bears. That gave him 14,069 yards through 49 games, surpassing Kurt Warner (13,864) for the best 50-game start to a career.
"I might (reflect on that) when I'm done playing someday," Stafford said. "I had no idea about that, or that it was coming. It's something that I'll probably look back on when I'm done and realize it was something pretty special."
Stafford set a record for completions over 50 games at 1,214, over Marc Bulger's 1,115. He's second in career 300-yard passing performances through 50 games at 19, trailing Warner's 29.
Stafford led the Lions to a 5-3 record entering their mid-season bye. Stafford defeated the Cowboys 31-30 in the final game before the bye, throwing for 488 yards and a touchdown despite two interceptions; down 30-24 with just 62 seconds to work with and no timeouts Stafford completed a 23-yard pass to Calvin Johnson to the Cowboys 1-yard line; he hustled the team to the line as though to spike the ball, but instead jumped over the line for the winning touchdown with 14 seconds to go, to go to 5-3.
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.
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.
Stafford during the 2015 preseason
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. 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 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.
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 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.
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.
Going into the 2018 season, Stafford had a new head coach in Matt Patricia. On Monday Night Football on September 10 against the New York Jets, his season opener, Stafford had four interceptions and the Lions lost the game by a score of 48-17. He rebounded statistically in the following game, a 30-27 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, with 347 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions got their first win of the season in the following game against the New England Patriots on NBC Sunday Night Football as Stafford recorded 262 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception in the 26-10 win. Overall, the rest of the season was inconsistent for Stafford and the Lions. He never passed for more than two touchdowns in any game for the rest of the season as the Lions finished with a 6-10 record. One memorable game for the Lions was a 31-0 shutout of their rival, the Green Bay Packers, with Stafford passing for 266 yards and two touchdowns in Week 17. Overall, Stafford finished with 3,777 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.
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.
Most game-winning drives in a single season - 8 (2016) (NFL record)
Most consecutive completed pass attempts in a game - 14 (December 4, 2016 vs. New Orleans Saints)
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. In November 2016, the couple announced they were expecting identical twin girls. The twins, named Sawyer and Chandler, were born in 2017. Their third daughter, named Hunter, was born in 2018.
On April 3, 2019, Kelly Stafford revealed on Instagram that she had a brain tumor. On April 21, 2019, Kelly underwent a 12-hour surgery.
In 2015, Stafford donated $1 million to the S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center.