Carolina Panthers

Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford makes rare news with his feet

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford swears he didn’t know his footwork was such a big deal until after Monday night’s win against the New York Giants.

He wiggled his way out of the pocket and found Calvin Johnson for touchdowns twice in the first quarter, and in the third quarter, he scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown while avoiding linebackers.

“It’s been funny, (my teammates) are giving me a hard time as you would expect,” Stafford said this week on a teleconference. “I’m just glad that it worked out more than anything.”

Sunday, Stafford and the Lions face Carolina (1-0) in the Panthers’ home opener at Bank of America Stadium. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

In an NFL where there are more dual-threat quarterbacks than ever, Stafford isn’t usually in that conversation. He has rushed for 394 yards in his six-year career, after running a 4.81-second 40-yard dash at the NFL draft scouting combine.

But in Monday’s 35-14 win against the Giants, he was nimble. On a 67-yard touchdown pass to Johnson, Stafford moved to his right, did a stop-and-go juke move on Giants defensive end Damontre Moore and then found a wide-open Johnson.

Later in the quarter, Stafford moved to his left as he flicked a 16-yard touchdown pass to Johnson.

Perhaps his most agile rush came late in the third quarter. With the Lions leading 20-7 on third-and-goal from the 5, he scrambled out of shotgun and made the same move on linebacker Jacquian Williams that he used on Moore earlier and scored a touchdown.

“I just tried to buy some time, and when I got out there I saw there was a bit of a hole,” Stafford said, “and I tried to go run and realized I wasn’t going to make it and decided to cut back and got in. As I came in, I saw (middle linebacker Jon) Beason at the last second, and I was able to lower my pads and make sure I didn’t get knocked out.”

It was an offseason of change for Stafford and the Lions. New head coach Jim Caldwell hired Joe Lombardi to be the team’s offensive coordinator.

Lombardi had spent seven years as the quarterbacks coach in New Orleans, and he brought parts of the Saints offense with him, though Lions and Panthers both agree there are only hints of it.

Stafford is coming off his worst statistical season since his rookie year. The Lions went a disappointing 7-9, and Stafford threw 19 interceptions with a completion percentage of 58.5. Caldwell said he could see Stafford’s focus on the new system as early as the spring.

“You could tell when he came back in the summer that he had put some extra time in thinking about it, looking at it from a protection standpoint,” Caldwell said. “All of those areas in terms of operation of the offense you could see that he came back ready to go immediately.”

Atlhough Stafford’s mobility was the talk of the locker room Monday night, Panthers coach Ron Rivera doesn’t understand why.

Rivera said this week he’s always believed Stafford to be a mobile quarterback. He pointed to last year’s game against the Cowboys as proof.

Stafford led a six-play, 80-yard drive in the final minute of the game to lift the Lions to a 31-30 win against Dallas. On the final play, Stafford rushed the team to the line of scrimmage and did a fake spike, jumping over the line to break the plane of the goal line and score the game-winner.

“You can’t miss him when you get a shot,” Rivera said. “I think twice the Giants had him dead to rights and he was able to wiggle his way out. I think he’s a much better athlete than what people are portraying him. I’ll be honest I’ve always felt that he’s a good athlete.”

But by his own admission, Stafford is no Cam Newton when it comes to mobility.

“I don’t have Cam Newton moves,” Stafford said. “I just have one.”

Related stories from Charlotte Observer