The text message flashed on the cell phone of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford on the night before Christmas Eve.
Margaret Stafford had been anxiously awaiting her son's game against the San Diego Chargers and hoped to lighten the mood before a contest that could clinch the Lions' first playoff berth in 12 years. When Stafford glanced down at the message, he had to be amused by his mother's sense of humor. All she'd written was a single question: "Do you think Santa will understand a comfortable lead with time left in the fourth quarter?"
You couldn't blame Mama Stafford, either. Like every other Lions fan this season, she'd watched her boy lead a team that seemed most comfortable playing with its back against the wall and the game in serious doubt. Stafford had led four comeback wins already but, as it turned out, there would be no such suspense in Detroit's 38-10 victory over San Diego. The more salient question for the Lions quickly became how they'd handle life in the playoffs -- and just how far their third-year quarterback could take them in what has become his breakout season.
Many people expected big things from Detroit this fall, as the 10-6 Lions were a trendy pick to go from nobodies to playoff contenders. What everybody realized was that such a leap wasn't going to happen without Stafford playing at a high level, which he's certainly done with a team-record 5,038 passing yards and 41 touchdowns.