The Detroit Lions officially deactivated QB Matthew Stafford for Sunday's game at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears only a few hours after multiple reports indicated his streak of 136 consecutive starts would be snapped with a fractured back.
Stafford, who is having arguably the best season of his career with personal bests in passer rating, TD percentage and adjusted yards per attempt, has been battling the injury since last season, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The 11th-year veteran and Lions' all-time leading passer was a limited practice participant this week, and per Schefter, was uncorking 60-yard throws during Friday's workout, making Sunday's news all the more stunning.
In the absence of Stafford, whose consecutive starts streak was the sixth longest in NFL history, the 3-4-1 Lions will be led by former San Francisco 49ers sixth-rounder Jeff Driskel, 26, who'll make make his sixth career start but first for Detroit. The athletic Louisiana Tech product signed with the Lions in September after he was waived/injured by the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bears, at 3-5 and losers in four straight, are relatively healthy entering Sunday with only No. 4 OLB Isaiah Irving out with injury. Nose guard Eddie Goldman, who played only 11 snaps in last week's loss in Philadelphia after suffering a thigh injury, was listed as questionable vs. the Lions but went from a non-participant in Wednesday's practice to full go Friday.
The biggest news from Chicago's inactives list — Duke Shelley, Josh Woods, Irving, Ted Larsen, Adam Shaheen, Riley Ridley and Abdullah Anderson — is Shaheen, the 45th overall pick in the 2017 draft, who's a healthy scratch for the first time in his career.
Shaheen, who fumbled last week on the Bears' desperation kick return in the final minute instead of kneeling as directed, has only nine catches for 74 yards in his third season, when he's also fallen short as a blocker in the Bears' immensely disappointing TE room. This could mark the end of his disappointing tenure with in Chicago, where he was drafted ahead of the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Alvin Kamara and expected to be the Bears' version of the imposing mismatch threats at the TE position that have infiltrated the league.
But the 6-foot-7, 257-pound product of DII Ashland University finished his first two seasons on injured reserve before team brass raved about his "phenomenal" third offseason and its belief he was finally poised for a big jump.
As far as the Lions injuries, outside of Stafford, they'll also be without their leading tackler, S Tracy Walker, and his backup Miles Killebrew, opening the door perhaps for the other half of Chicago's underperforming TE tandem, Trey Burton, to break out of his own season-long slump.
Bear in mind, though, Chicago has managed to lose during its four-game skid to a Raiders team missing its top two receivers and top draft pick; New Orleans Saints club with an all-backup backfield sans NFL passing champ Drew Brees and Pro Bowl back Alvin Kamara; Los Angeles Chargers without their top two defensive tackles and All-Pro defensive back; and last week to the Eagles, who were without future Hall of Fame LT Jason Peters.
In a strange way, then, the absence of Stafford arguably only increases the pressure on the desperate Bears and their embattled passer Mitch Trubisky. He technically faces the NFL's 31st-ranked 'D,' badly undermanned up front and on the back end, but opposes Driskel, another talented young quarterback with prototype physical tools but lacking Trubisky's draft pedigree and previous starting experience.
So while the Bears appear to be catching another big break Sunday, they certainly haven't made their own to date. Anything short of their fourth win Sunday would be met by unrivaled scrutiny and scorn for Matt Nagy and Co.