The rebranding of Matthew Stafford into one of the league’s top quarterbacks in his first season with the Rams isn’t a renaissance at all. Giants wide receiver Kenny Golladay would know.
"I wouldn’t say he’s turned his career around," Golladay, a former teammate and target of Stafford’s in Detroit, told Newsday this week. "The plays he’s making now, I saw him make those plays for four years, that’s how long I played with him. I’m not surprised at all."
Stafford is third in the NFL in passing yards, tied for fifth in touchdown passes and third in passer rating. His seven pass completions of at least 40 yards are the most in the NFL — no one else has more than five — and most importantly, his team is 4-1.
The new perception of him, Golladay noted, isn’t so much about the player but the environment.
"He’s with the Rams, he’s not with the Lions right now," Golladay said. "It’s a difference."
Getting away from Detroit, where Stafford was just as prolific passing for most of his 12 seasons but had only a 74-90-1 record and no playoff wins in three postseason appearances to show for it, was just the change of scenery he needed.
"Clearly he wanted something new," Golladay said. "It was probably best for him and his family. I’m happy for him."
Stafford went west and Golladay came east, but the receiver was looking for the same kind of fresh start when he left Detroit. He thought he’d found it when he signed a four-year deal with the Giants, a team with a dynamic quarterback, a young and confident head coach, a game-changing running back (albeit one coming back from an ACL injury) and a defense that finished the 2020 season ranked 12th in the NFL.
Unlike Stafford, whose new zip code has resurrected his status and brought a greater appreciation of his abilities, Golladay landed with a team that is underachieving. The Giants have been nearly as bad as the winless Lions, and given their aspirations this season, probably more disappointing.
"I don’t think anybody comes into the season thinking they’re going to be 1-4," Golladay said. "Of course I had different thoughts coming into it. But it is what it is. Just have to keep working."
On Sunday, Golladay will have to watch his former quarterback in a new uniform play his current team without being on the field. He was ruled out for the game between the Rams and Giants at MetLife Stadium after suffering a knee injury against the Cowboys a week ago. That will leave him with an even worse perspective on the fates that he and Stafford have found themselves with since departing Detroit.
Golladay does have one thing to be happy about. When he first injured his knee, he didn’t know how severe it was and the medical staff was unable to tell right away if he’d torn his ACL. An MRI the next day showed no tears and the news came with, he said, "a huge sigh of relief."
He has no timetable for a return but is expected to miss another week or two before he is back on the field.
By then, who knows what the Giants’ record will be? They might still be stuck on just one win. They might have been able to turn their season around with a few upset victories.
At some point, Golladay will rejoin the lineup and get back to the job of trying to make his new home just as warm and cozy and successful as his former teammate has already made his. He isn’t griping about his lot, not regretting his choice in free agency and not giving up on the Giants’ goals of becoming consistent contenders even while the hopes of doing so this season quickly slip away.
Yet he will have to face a reality on Sunday: Neither he nor Stafford is with the Lions anymore, having escaped a moribund franchise that hasn’t won a title since 1957 and has won only one playoff game since, but only one of them can legitimately say he is in a better place coming into their meeting.