No matter how you look at it, the PFW/PFWA Comeback Player of the Year Award suits Lions QB Matthew Stafford.
Less than a year removed from right shoulder surgery, Stafford threw for 5,038 yards and 41 TDs in leading Detroit to its first playoff berth since 1999. Stafford, who played just three games the previous season, didn't miss a single contest in 2011, throwing a whopping 706 passes in 17 starts in the regular season and playoffs.
Another reason this award fits Stafford: Time and again, he thrived when all hope appeared lost for his club.
In four of Detroit's 10 victories, the Lions overcame second-half deficits of at least 13 points. Each time, Stafford threw multiple TD passes as the Lions stormed back to win.
"We were one of the teams that rode the wave really well, you know?" Stafford said of the Lions' comebacks. "When you see that momentum, you've got to seize it, you got to take it and you've got to run with it."
Stafford's top target, WR Calvin Johnson, was exceptional in these situations, too, routinely beating double coverage. It was something to behold — a young, strong-armed quarterback on the same wavelength as his immensely gifted go-to receiver.
"We'd look at each other and we knew we needed to go out there and take it over," Stafford said. "I'd give him chances on balls, and he was making sure he was getting open and making plays on it.
"It was a ton of fun. He's a great guy, great teammate — obviously, in my opinion, the best receiver in the game."
Stafford underwent surgery in January and was told he would feel 100 percent again about six months after that. The timetable for him to resume throwing was 12 weeks.
Six weeks after the surgery, Stafford was throwing. Six weeks after that, his rehabilitation was over.
"I definitely pushed myself," he said. "Mentally, I wasn't going to wait the full six months or whatever it was to try and make myself start feeling better."
Once the regular season began, he routinely put the hurt on the opposition at the helm of Detroit's pass-first attack. The Lions won their first five games and then slumped somewhat. For a time, Stafford played with a broken right finger. But Detroit got it back together late in the season, with the Week 15 win at Oakland — marked by Stafford and Johnson shredding the Raiders' coverage — serving as a pivotal moment. The next week, the Lions clinched that long-elusive playoff spot.
Four days after the Lions' season ended, Stafford reflected on the meaning of 2011.
"Hopefully, it's something that we look back on and say, 'It was a great stepping-stone, making it to the playoffs,' " he said.
Comeback Player of the Year
2011 QB Matthew Stafford / Det.
2010 QB Michael Vick / Phil.
2009 QB Tom Brady / N.E.
2008 QB Chad Pennington / Mia.
2007 WR Randy Moss / N.E.
2006 QB Chad Pennington / N.Y.J.
2005 WR Steve Smith / Car.
2004 RB Willis Mcgahee / Buff.
2003 QB Jon Kitna / Cin.
2002 QB Tommy Maddox / Pitt.
2001 RB Garrison Hearst / S.F.
2000 DE Joe Johnson / N.O.
1999 DT Bryant Young / S.F.
1998 QB Doug Flutie / Buff.
1997 WR Robert Brooks / G.B.
1996 RB Jerome Bettis / Pitt.
1995 QB Jim Harbaugh / Ind.
1994 QB Dan Marino / Mia.
1993 RB Marcus Allen / K.C.
1992 QB Randall Cunningham / Phil.
1991 QB Jim Mcmahon / Phil.
1990 RB Barry Word / K.C.
1989 RB Ottis Anderson / N.Y.G.
1988 RB Greg Bell / L.A. Rams
1987 RB Charles White / L.A. Rams
1986 QB Tommy Kramer / Minn.
QB Joe Montana / S.F.
1985 No Award
1984 WR John Stallworth / Pitt.
1983 WR-PR Billy Johnson / Atl.
1982 DE Lyle Alzado / L.A. Raiders
1981 QB Ken Anderson / Cin.
1980 QB Jim Plunkett / Oak.
1979 RB Larry Csonka / Mia.
1978 RB John Riggins / Wash.
1977 QB Craig Morton / Den.
1976 QB Greg Landry / Det.
1975 RB Dave Hampton / Atl.
1974 QB Joe Namath / N.Y.J.
1973 QB Roman Gabriel / Phil.
1972 QB Earl Morrall / Mia.