On Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, Stafford accomplished something he once believed would be impossible. The Detroit Lions' 29-year-old quarterback moved past his boyhood hero on the NFL's career passing list.
The individual milestone came along with a narrow victory for Detroit (6-4), which held on for a 27-24 road win over the Chicago Bears. The Lions have won three games in a row to improve their NFC playoff hopes.
Stafford passed for 299 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Lions. The performance increased his career total to 33,063 passing yards, which moved him past Aikman (32,942 yards) for 36th place in the record books.
"It's awesome," Stafford said. "He's a guy I grew up watching, and I have a lot of respect for him still to this day. He's a great player. He's done a great job with his current career.
"It's cool. I'll look back on it when I'm all said and done and hopefully get some time to think about it. But at the moment, man, I've got a game in about 36 hours or so -- whatever it is -- so I'm trying to get ready for that one."
The timeline was an exaggeration, but only slightly. Detroit has three days to prepare for its Thanksgiving game against Minnesota (8-2) in a matchup that could have significant implications in the race to win the NFC North.
Without Stafford, Detroit's midseason surge likely would not have taken place. He has a 98.4 passer rating with 2,760 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions this season.
Thirteen players have caught passes from Stafford this season, including five players with 20-plus receptions. Golden Tate leads the way with 59 catches for 691 yards, and Marvin Jones Jr. has emerged as the top target in the end zone with six touchdowns on 38 receptions.
At his current pace, Stafford will climb past other quarterbacks such as Y.A. Tittle (33,070 yards), Steve Young (33,124 yards) and Phil Simms (33,426 yards) well before the season is finished. But he is more focused on Detroit's ascension in the standings than his individual rankings.
"We're trying to move down the field and score points," Stafford said. "I don't really care how it happens. If I hand it off five times or if I throw it five times, let's just go execute and play good football."