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Detroit Lions: Ranking the Thanksgiving Quarterbacks

Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford is by far the best quarterback the Lions have started on Thanksgiving

One of the great Thanksgiving traditions is snickering at who is playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions.

The list of Lions quarterbacks starting on Thanksgiving is an amalgam of draft busts, journeymen, career backups, and former stars whose best days had gone by.

Giggling at Lions quarterbacks on Thanksgiving, though, has gotten tougher thanks to Matthew Stafford. He may only have a 4-6 record on Turkey Day, but that's pretty great for a Detroit QB. (Overall, the Lions are 37-42-2 in Thanksgiving games.) The former No. 1 overall pick brought a sense of competency to this moribund franchise with his rocket arm... and now he's gone.

So at the risk of poking too much fun at Detroit's quarterback carousel, here is our (somewhat arbitrary) ranking of the 21 who have started on Thanksgiving for the Lions since the NFL merger (1970).

To be clear, we're looking at their entire career, not just their starts on Thanksgiving nor their tenures with the Lions. You're welcome, Daunte Culpepper.

1. Matthew Stafford (2009, '11-18, '20)

The Lions had lost nine straight Thanksgiving Day games before Stafford mercifully brought that streak to an end in 2013 with a 40-10 win over the Packers. He went on to lead Detroit to four straight wins as well with Turkey Day victories over the Bears, Eagles, and Vikings. Stafford may not have a playoff win under his belt, but he's setting records left and right as the fastest quarterback to reach 40,000 career passing yards. And he's now in Los Angeles with the Rams and has a much better roster around him, so we know he's thankful for that.

2. Dave Krieg (1994)

The longtime Seahawks quarterback made one Thanksgiving start for Detroit, and it was one of the Lions' best. Subbing for Scott Mitchell, Krieg went 20-of-25 for 351 yards with three touchdowns in a win over the Bills. By then, Kreig was a 36-year-old quarterback with three Pro Bowl selections and an NFC Championship Game behind him.

3. Daunte Culpepper (2008)

Remember the Culpepper era in Detroit? We didn't, either. From 2000-04, Culpepper was a rival to Peyton Manning on the Vikings. After that? Not so much. By 2008, the three-time Pro Bowler made five starts during the Lions' winless 2008 season. Culpepper was 0-10 as a starter in two seasons for the Lions before hanging up his cleats.

4. Jared Goff (2021)

Goff had a 42-27 record over five seasons with the Rams, but LA's success — and his lack thereof — after trading him to Detroit for Matthew Stafford illustrate how much of a system quarterback he was. Still, you can't take away Goff's two Pro Bowls and Super Bowl appearance, even if he only went 19-of-38 for 229 yards with no touchdowns, an interception, and four sacks in that game. Goff missed last week's game with an oblique injury but if he's healthy enough to play, he'll get the start on Thanksgiving.

5. Jon Kitna (2006-07)

Kitna entered the league in 1997, and he was still on an NFL roster at 41 in 2013. The Cowboys signed him away from being a high school math teacher and coach at Lincoln High in Tacoma, Wash. — during winter break, of course. Kitna then donated his $53,000 Cowboys salary to the high school. Oh, and he started on Thanksgiving for both the Lions and Cowboys during his career. You're a cool teacher, Mr. Kitna.

6. Joe Ferguson (1986)

Ferguson made five career starts for the Lions in his mid-30s — including a 44-40 loss to the Packers on Thanksgiving 1986 — well after he played for the Bills from 1973-84. He led the league in passing in 1977 and touchdowns in '75 and pulled the Bills out of the doldrums. But he also had a knack for throwing interceptions in the playoffs and also during the 1982 regular season when he threw 16 picks.

7. Scott Mitchell (1995-97)

Mitchell enjoyed his best season in 1995 with 4,338 yards and 32 touchdowns, including a win over Minnesota on Thanksgiving. He started three full seasons for Detroit and hung around the NFL for five more years until 2001. He resurfaced as a 366-pound contestant on "The Biggest Loser" in 2014.

8. Greg Landry (1970-72, '74, '76-77)

Landry spent 10 seasons with the Lions, only four as their primary quarterback. After spending 1968-84 in the NFL, he was an assistant in the pros and in college until 1986. Bet you didn't know there's a National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame, and Landry's in it. Now you know.

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9. Erik Kramer (1991-92)

He started 15 games in three seasons for the Lions, including twice on Thanksgiving and three times in the playoffs. He didn't become a full-time starter until age 31 for the Bears.

10. Gus Frerotte (1999)

The journeyman Frerotte is one of 14 quarterbacks to throw a 99-yard pass. In that way, he's just like Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Jim Plunkett, and Otto Graham.

11. Rodney Peete (1993)

Peete bounced around the league as a backup for most of his 15 seasons. He finished with a 45-42 career record, which for this list is pretty good.

12. Eric Hipple (1981-83, '85)

Hipple played his entire career for the Lions, going 3-1 on Thanksgiving and 25-29 otherwise.

13. Gary Danielson (1978, '80, '84)

The CBS college football commentator started three non-consecutive Thanksgivings for the Lions and had a couple of nice seasons in 1978-80.

14. Bill Munson (1973)

Munson played for the Lions from 1968-75, starting 48 games, and yet only one of them came on Thanksgiving, a 20-0 loss to Washington. In his first NFL two seasons in 1964-65 for the Rams, Munson threw 29 total interceptions. A decade later, he led three game-winning drives for the Lions in 1974 alone.

15. Charlie Batch (1998, 2000-01)

We could have sworn Batch was still a backup somewhere. He's not.

16. Joey Harrington (2002-05)

Harrington started four Thanksgiving games for the Lions. He finished two of them. Now you can occasionally find him on TV.

17. Bob Gagliano (1989-90)

For Detroit in two years: 11 starts, 16 touchdown passes. For three other NFL teams in five years: Two starts and one touchdown pass. Also played two years in the USFL.

18. Shaun Hill (2010)

Hill started one season while Stafford was hurt and threw 12 interceptions, including two against the Patriots on Thanksgiving.

19. Chuck Long (1987-88)

He started twice on Thanksgiving and went a combined 8-of-20. His 2.8 passer rating in 1988 is the worst for any Lions QB on Thanksgiving since 1970. Led the NFL with 20 interceptions in 1987.

20. Joe Reed (1975)

Enjoyed one extended look as a starter in 1975 and threw nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions.

21. David Blough (2019)

A back fracture finally ended Matthew Stafford's consecutive start streak at 136 games, which allowed the undrafted rookie out of Purdue, whom the Lions acquired from the Browns in late August, to make his first career appearance on Thanksgiving Day in 2019. He didn't play poorly (280-2-1), but the Lions lost to the Bears, 24-20. Blough started the remaining games, finishing the 2019 season winless (0-5) while completing 54.0 percent of his passes for 984 yards, four touchdowns, and six interceptions. He's currently the third quarterback on Detroit's depth chart behind Goff and Tim Boyle.

22. Jeff Komlo (1979)

A ninth-round pick, Komlo threw 23 interceptions and went 2-12 in his lone season as a starter in the NFL as a rookie. His story didn't end well.