Does one narrow win make Matthew Stafford great?

If what follows sounds like a scolding, be advised I’m also scolding myself. Because I do it, too. In unguarded moments, I resort to the ESPN-fueled shorthand of judging quarterbacks by Super Bowl “wins.”

Matthew Stafford has “won” as many Super Bowls as Aaron Rodgers/Drew Brees/Russell Wilson. Stafford has “won” one more Super Bowl than Matt Ryan/Philip Rivers. Ergo, Stafford belongs among the upper crust of 21st century quarterbacks, even though it took him 13 seasons and a change of employers just to “win” a playoff game.

If not for Aaron Donald and Von Miller and Leonard Floyd, Stafford wouldn’t have “won” anything Sunday. The quote marks around “win” and “won” should give us – again, I’m including myself – pause, but it’s so convenient to speak in terms of a quarterback’s “wins” that we fail to grasp the obvious.

A quarterback cannot throw the ball to himself. A quarterback cannot block for himself. Unless/until the NFL produces its version of Shohei Ohtani – he pitches and hits! – every mention of a quarterback “winning” should be taken with a tub of salt.

Tom Brady’s team faced Peyton Manning’s team 17 times; not once were they on the field for the same play. Pro-Football-Reference provides a column of numbers under the heading “QBrec.” Counting playoffs, Brady’s career QBrec was 243-73. He’s considered the GOAT by some distance, but does that mean he’s the greatest NFL player? Better than Jerry Rice? Lawrence Taylor? Jim Brown?

Going by Sunday’s stats, Stafford was slightly the lesser quarterback. Joe Burrow’s passer rating was 100.9 to Stafford’s 89.9. Burrow threw no interceptions; Stafford threw two. Burrow had the better completion percentage and averaged more yards (7.97 to Stafford’s 7.08) per pass. The Rams didn’t win because Stafford outplayed Burrow; they won because they made it harder on Burrow than the Bengals could make it on Stafford.

Burrow was sacked seven times to Stafford’s two. This wasn’t a shock. Burrow was sacked nine times in the Bengals’ Round 2 upset of top-seeded Tennessee. At times over these playoffs, we saw the Bengals weren’t a fully formed team, which made sense. Over their first two years under Zac Taylor, they were 6-25-1.

We spent 12 NFL seasons wondering how Stafford, the No. 1 draftee in 2009, might look if he played somewhere other than Detroit, which never won its division over those dozen years. (And yes, he had the incomparable Calvin Johnson for seven seasons.) The Rams made the playoffs three times under Jared Goff, who never quite fit the definition of Franchise Quarterback.

The belief was that Goff’s team was better than Goff himself. That contention has been validated. Grafting a high-level NFL quarterback onto a high-level NFL team produced the desired effect. Stafford made the throws he needed to make and orchestrated the drive that won the game. Having crossed midfield with 54 seconds remaining, the Bengals didn’t gain another yard. Burrow’s final fling came as the great Aaron Donald spun him around.

The easy postgame story: In his 189th NFL game, Stafford proved his worth – even though this was the 36th fourth-quarter comeback he’d engineered. We’ll never know what would have happened had Stafford swapped NFC North franchises with Rodgers 13 years ago. To borrow a Rodgers line, that will forever remain a beautiful mystery.

As for Burrow: The kneejerk response to the Bengals’ narrow loss was to suggest this splendid quarterback has more Super runs in him. In sports, though, who can ever know anything? If you’re wondering why Dan Marino, who last threw an NFL pass on Jan. 15, 2000, was trending Monday on Twitter, there’s your answer.

Like Burrow, Marino reached the Super Bowl in his second NFL season. His Dolphins lost to Joe Montana’s 49ers. We all figured Marino, the best pure passer ever, would grace many more Super Sundays. He did not. Only twice over the next 15 seasons did his team reach the AFC title game.

Trent Dilfer “won” a Super Bowl. Mark Rypien “won” a Super Bowl. Brad Johnson “won” a Super Bowl. Those three reached a total of five Pro Bowls. Marino made nine. We can’t call him a beautiful loser, given that his Dolphins had just one losing season over his 18 years. But he wasn’t a Super Bowl champ, and there are those who hold a quarterback can’t be deemed great without a ring.

If that’s true – I contend it’s not – Stafford is now a great quarterback. By that logic, he’d have been rendered not-great had Burrow’s final pass gone for a touchdown. At a time when advanced analytics have taught us to look beyond a baseball pitcher’s “wins,” we haven’t managed to do the same with quarterbacks. We should at least try, don’t you think?