Only 4 Lions QBs Have Winning Records in 17+ Starts
The Detroit Lions, of course, did not place very highly. The Lions ranked 23rd. (Hey, the Chicago Bears landed at 26th, so it isn't all bad.)
With only Matthew Stafford and Bobby Layne to really boast about in any capacity, the franchise has suffered at the position, to put it lightly. However, only one of those quarterbacks can even boast of having a winning record with the franchise.
In fact, among quarterbacks with at least a full season's worth of starts, only four have winning records. It's not overly surprising, I know. After all, the Lions' overall record in the regular season is a lowly 579-702-34.
We'll discuss the four from least wins to most.
Jim Ninowski (9-8-1)
Jim Ninowski started 18 games for the Lions between 1960 and 1961 and while he won the majority of his starts, the results were not pretty in the box score. A former Michigan State Spartan, Ninowski threw nine touchdowns for the Lions to an unfathomable 36 interceptions. It was a different era back then, sure, but that disparity is eye-catching for sure, especially when he threw 18 interceptions in each season. He threw just two touchdowns in 1960 total.
Still, the Lions finished one game back of the Green Bay Packers in the West in the NFL standings in 1960 and one game ahead of the Johnny Unitas-led Baltimore Colts, who threw for over 3,000 yards.
Ninowski's Lions career was bookended by the team that drafted him, the Cleveland Browns. Ninowksi played 12 seasons in the NFL for four different franchises, throwing for 7,133 yards, 34 touchdowns and 67 interceptions. His starting record was a balanced 15-15-1.
He's the only living former Lions quarterback with a winning record in at least 17 starts.
Earl Morrall (15-10-1)
Earl Morrall had one of the most interesting quarterback careers in NFL history that rarely gets talked about. He quarterbacked the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins for nine games, was an NFL MVP winner and runner-up for two franchises and spent 20 total seasons in the league with six different teams starting at least one game in all but three seasons.
However, the Michigan State alumni spent the most time with the Detroit Lions. In 1960, he threw twice as many touchdowns as Ninowski while only throwing three interceptions. Overall, Morrall was fairly successful as the Lions starting quarterback, though he never got the full reigns as the permanent starter. Over seven seasons, Morrall went 15-10-1 as the Lions starter, throwing for 6,280 yards, 52 touchdowns and 41 interceptions.
Bill Munson (24-21-3)
Bill Munson joined the Lions shortly after Morrall moved on from the Motor City. Munson was the 7th overall pick in the 1964 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams, but quickly flamed out after going 3-13-2 over two seasons. While he wasn't the full-time starter in Detroit either, Munson did manage to start 48 games over eight years and won half of them.
Munson threw for 8,461 yards, 56 touchdowns and 42 interceptions in Detroit alone. He was quite the captain comeback as well, being credited with seven in his Lions career, three of which came in 1974.
Bobby Layne (53-29-2)
Bobby Layne is one of the greatest Lions of all time, so it's truly no surprise to see him round out this short list properly, though he could be to blame for why it's so short in the first place.
He was, after all, the one who cursed the franchise for 50 years, allegedly. Ironically, the other three quarterbacks on the list all joined the franchise in quick succession after Layne.
Still, with a record of 53-29-2, only Erik Kramer (who went 10-5 in 15 games) has a better winning percentage in franchise history among quarterbacks with at least 10 starts.
Of course, Layne won three NFL Championships with the Lions before he was abruptly traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1958 season after the Lions won the third of those championships in 1957 while Layne nursed a broken leg. Tobin Rote, the starting quarterback in the 1957 championship and the quarterback the front office kept in lieu of Layne, went 5-11-2 from 1958-59 before heading up north to the Canadian Football League for three seasons.
The remainder of Layne's career in Pittsburgh was plagued by injuries, but he was nonetheless one of the league's first great passing quarterbacks. In his nine seasons with the Lions, Layne threw for 15,710 yards, 118 touchdowns and 142 interceptions.
The Lions aren't historically gifted at the position, but it's still comedic, in a self-deprecating sort of way, that only one of the few good quarterbacks in team history makes the list. It's even more brutal to realize that none of these quarterbacks played another snap for the franchise after 1975. But no, Matthew Stafford, Scott Mitchell, and even for the time being Jared Goff all had or have losing records as the Lions starting quarterback.
Check out below for a list of the "winningest" quarterbacks in franchise history.