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Is Stanton's Start the End for Culpepper?

Dec 23, 2009 – 3:55 PM
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Chris Burke

Chris Burke %BloggerTitle%

Drew StantonThe Drew Stanton era -- however short it may be -- officially began in Detroit Wednesday. Head coach Jim Schwartz announced that Stanton, a third-year pro out of Michigan State, would start at quarterback for the Lions in San Francisco this week.

Stanton relieved Daunte Culpepper in Week 15 against Arizona and nearly led Detroit back from a 17-0 deficit to a huge upset win. Sunday's start will be his first in the NFL. "It was a nice early Christmas present," said Stanton of getting the nod, according to the Detroit News, "The best one I've had."

Culpepper's Christmas, on the other hand, has a bit more of a coal-in-the-stocking type feel. The Lions' decision to go with Stanton may signal the end of the line for Culpepper's career.

You'll recall that Detroit plucked an out-of-shape Culpepper out of semi-retirement last season to play QB down the stretch of an 0-16 season. He returned in 2009 on the second year of a two-year deal to compete with rookie Matthew Stafford for the starting spot -- but lost a close training camp battle.

Culpepper found his way into the lineup in Week 4 when Stafford hurt his knee, then started the next two games. He returned late in Week 13 with Stafford nursing a shoulder injury, then started Week 14 at Baltimore and Week 15 against Arizona. Culpepper's thrown just one TD on 111 pass attempts this season and Detroit is 0-6 in games he's appeared in, including an 0-4 mark in his four starts.

With Culpepper's contract up after 2009 and Stafford set in stone as the starter for 2010, Schwartz has decided now's the time to find out if Stanton can be a capable backup -- or if he can be developed into trade bait.

Daunte CulpepperEither way, it leaves Culpepper out in the cold and might force him back into retirement. He's shown flashes of being back in better condition this season -- he's averaging 5.5 yards per carry on 12 rushes, for example -- but is still miles away from the player he was before a 2005 knee injury sent his career spiraling. The promise of an immediate starting job brought him to Detroit last season, but the situation's played out poorly for him.

The Lions won't bring him back in 2010, and considering he'll be 33 by the start of next season, Culpepper may find it hard to latch on anywhere else. At best, he'll get to fight for a backup spot on a team with a firmly-entrenched starter.

The future's much brighter for Stanton, obviously, even with Stafford eventually back in front of him. Detroit would be smart to keep Stafford on the shelf for the rest of this season, which means Stanton could get at least two shots to impress the Lions' brass.

"I'm looking forward to it," Stanton said. "But I've just got to take a deep breath and take it one play at a time."
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