Free Press writers Dave Birkett, Carlos Monarrez discuss surprises, disappointments in first half of Lions season, preview Bears game Nov. 8, 2018.
Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press

The Stat King has a message for his latest critic: Your opinion is none of my concern.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford responded to criticism lobbed his way this week by former NFL MVP and CBS Sports analyst Rich Gannon, who called him “overpaid” and said he piles up big passing numbers late in games.

“I don’t need to answer to Rich Gannon,” Stafford said Thursday.

Gannon said on the show NFL Monday QB that Stafford’s early game struggles are “a big reason why” the Lions are 3-5 and in last place in the NFC North entering Sunday’s showdown with the Chicago Bears.

The Lions have fallen behind by double digits in the first half of each of their last two games and in four of their five losses this year.

Stafford has nine turnovers in those losses, and just one in the Lions’ three wins.

“The guy is overpaid,” Gannon said. “He’s been one of the highest-paid quarterbacks over the last four or five years and he’s a stat king. He picks up a lot of yards and production in garbage time.”

Gannon is the second quarterback-turned-analyst to chide Stafford for his play in the past month.

In October, CBS analyst Boomer Esiason said Stafford is more “locker room lawyer” than “locker room leader” and compared him to Eli Manning.

Stafford said he doesn’t hear most of the slights directed his way and doesn’t know why he’s become a lightning rod for criticism by former quarterbacks.

“I don’t know,” Stafford said. “I mean, they’re free to talk about whatever they want to talk about and however they want to talk about anybody. I don’t really pay any attention to it. Obviously, I didn’t know it happened, so maybe that makes them mad, I don’t know? I don’t really have any answer for you. It doesn’t bother me. I answer to the guys in my locker room or our coaches and all that way before anybody else.”

Stafford is completing a career-high 67.8 percent of his passes through eight games and has 2,111 yards passing and 14 touchdowns with six interceptions.

Those numbers are in line with what Stafford has done the last four seasons, when he has averaged 4,323 yards, 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions a year.

Gannon’s comments do have some merit from a statistical basis, though, as Stafford has averaged about 25 percent more passing yards in the fourth quarter of games (78.4 yards) than he has in the first three quarters (62 yards per quarter).

That difference is partly a product of playing from behind, and Stafford’s numbers actually compare favorably to the numbers the division’s best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, has put up in Green Bay. Rodgers averages 69.8 yards in each of the first three quarters and 108.3 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime this year.

“That rolls right off his back,” wide receiver Kenny Golladay said of the criticism directed at Stafford. “That dude’s a competitor. And me and Marv (Jones), we’re right behind him every step of the way.”

Criticism aside, Stafford said he and the offense have to play better than they’ve played the last two weeks if the Lions are going to get back in the playoff hunt.

The Lions have scored just two touchdowns in losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, and are coming off a game in which Stafford took a career-high 10 sacks and the Lions failed to reach the end zone.

More: Detroit Lions film review: Who’s to blame for Vikings’ 10 sacks?

“Just not scoring points,” Stafford said. “I just got to put the ball in the end zone more consistently. We’ve had some trips down to the red zone, had some chances at some big plays, whatever it is, I got to find a way to get the ball in the end zone. That’s really my job when it boils down to it.”

As for the Lions’ struggles early in games, Stafford said “it’s on our lists of musts every week” to start fast.

“And that’s as a team,” he said. “I’m a big part of that team, I understand that. And doing what I can do to help us get points. Convert on third downs, hitting big shots when you get it. Just make sure that when we have those opportunities from the opening kickoff we’re ready to go and the more I can hit the throws and make the right checks, all that kind of stuff, the better we’re going to be.”

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!