The question now is whether Stanton will be back in Detroit next season. Despite his shoulder problems, Stafford is still the quarterback of the future and Shaun Hill is a capable backup. Stanton, whose contract is up, might have a better chance to play elsewhere.
"It's a matter of seeing what's the best situation for me and for my family. Obviously, the organization's going to do what they need to do," Stanton said. "It's so hard with a 53-man roster to make decisions and do all those things, and the money factor."
The 26-year-old Stanton is from nearby Farmington Hills, and he went to Michigan State. He was drafted by Detroit in 2007, although he didn't appear in any games that season. He made his first start as a pro last season, when the Lions went 2-14.
Detroit could have been headed to a similar record in 2010 when the Lions had to turn to Stanton. Stafford played only one full game because of shoulder injuries, and Hill hurt a finger, forcing Stanton into action. Detroit was 2-9 at the time with a game coming up against the rough-and-tumble Bears.
The Lions lost to Chicago 24-20, but Stanton acquitted himself well, completing two-thirds of his passes and keeping Detroit in the game. The following weekend, the Lions beat Green Bay 7-3, with Stanton shaking off a bad start to lead the winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
"There were significant injuries at every position. There's also been some good signs — the fact that you lose your starting quarterback and the guys that go in give you a chance to win," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We didn't always win those games, but they gave us a chance to win."
The Green Bay game was the start of a four-game winning streak to end the season. A week after beating the Packers, the Lions finally ended their NFL-record streak of 26 road losses when they beat Tampa Bay 23-20 in overtime. Stanton led the way, guiding the Lions to a tying field goal in the final two minutes of regulation. Detroit then drove for the winning kick in overtime.
That was Stanton's last appearance of the season. Hill was ready to return the following game, and Stanton had his own shoulder problems.
"Probably nobody was more excited to see Drew perform the way he performed this year than I was, having watched him the first couple years sort of flounder, and not really having an opportunity to make a real contribution for two seasons," general manager Martin Mayhew said.
Stanton may have played well enough during his brief opportunity to earn at least a shot at a backup spot on another team, instead of remaining behind Stafford and Hill. Detroit actually had another quarterback on the roster in rookie Zac Robinson, but he didn't play this season.
The uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement makes Stanton's situation even more murky.
"He falls into the category of a lot of guys. With not knowing what the system is going forward ... it's still sort of a work in progress," Mayhew said. "We don't know what our system is. We don't know what's going to be required to retain a guy like Drew."
If Stanton does move on, he made an important contribution to the Lions when given the opportunity, and leaving won't be easy.
"These past two years have been a breath of fresh air, having this coaching staff and the people in charge," Stanton said. "There's a great core group of guys in this locker room that are going to continue to be here, and that's something that I'd love to be a part of if it's possible."