Matthew Stafford won the Lions' quarterback derby. Daunte Culpepper didn't lose the job.
That's what Detroit's new coach, Jim Schwartz, emphasized Monday when he made the No. 1 overall draft pick the starter for Sunday in New Orleans, when the Lions try to win for the first time in 21 months.
"I've had a lot of very tough decisions in the last few days _ guys making the 53-man roster or not making it _ but none more difficult than at quarterback," he said. "We announced to our team this morning that Matt Stafford is going to be our starting quarterback."
Schwartz felt Stafford and Culpepper played well in training camp and the preseason, as did third-stringer Drew Stanton before sustaining a knee injury.
"I'm very, very comfortable with the quarterback position here, not just one and two, but also three," Schwartz said. "What made this decision difficult was that I think we can win with Daunte Culpepper, I think we can with Matt Stafford, and I think we can win with Drew Stanton."
One of the factors that helped Schwartz make his decision was the 21-year-old rookie's chemistry with Detroit's biggest offensive weapon, Calvin Johnson.
"I think he had 15 snaps in the preseason with Calvin, and you could already see what was possible there," Schwartz said. "The big plays were always there."
Stafford said that while he always believed he would win the job, he didn't know for sure until Monday morning.
"I definitely thought I was going to be the guy, but as competitive as Daunte is, I'm sure he thought he was going to be the guy, too," he said. "Coach Schwartz called me in this morning and told me, and I went out and practiced with the first team. That was exciting."
Even though he'll be starting in his NFL debut for a team coming off the first 0-16 season in NFL history, Stafford wasn't going to lower expectations for himself.
"I'm going to try to win football games," he said. "I think, just like everyone else on this team, that we can go out on Sunday and be competitive against the Saints and give ourselves a chance to win the game. That's our job."
While Schwartz repeatedly mentioned his comfort with the possibility of having to play Culpepper, he stressed that Stafford was not going to be on a short leash.
"This isn't an internship," he said. "This isn't a trial basis. He's our starting quarterback. We said that, to win the job, he had to be ready, and he had to be our best quarterback, and that's what he has shown."
Stafford is happy to know that, but doesn't want to take advantage of the situation.
"I don't want to go out there and see how many mistakes it takes to change his mind," he said with a laugh. "I've had successes and failures in my career and in this preseason, but I feel like I know this offense very well and I'm ready to go out and win games."
Culpepper didn't speak to the media _ his usual decision _ but Stafford isn't worried about a problem with their relationship.
"I'm sure it is tough for him, but Daunte's been great for me and he will continue to be," he said. "I can't think of a better guy to learn from and to have in my corner."
Schwartz also praised Culpepper.
"Daunte Culpepper is back _ there's no doubt in my mind and there's no doubt around this league," he said. "He's going to be back as a starting quarterback in this league, and with a high level of success."
Lions center Dominic Raiola, who was also the starter when Detroit's previous first-round quarterback began his career, doesn't see many comparisons between Stafford and Joey Harrington.
"I don't want to talk about the past, but they are totally different," he said. "I don't even look at Matt as a rookie any more, the way he's progressed through training camp and the preseason. I'm very confident with him back there."