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Allen Park — Regardless of the validity of NBC analyst and former NFL star Rodney Harrison’s comments that the Lions didn’t appropriately defend quarterback Matthew Stafford after a personal foul along their sideline Sunday, the team’s toughness is now in question.

For the Lions, any response after Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr shoved Stafford along the sideline late in the fourth quarter was a lose-lose predicament.

An overly aggressive response would’ve earned the Lions the dirty label they’ve worked to escape the past few years. A subdued one would receive a characterization like Harrison’s, who said the Lions showed “not a lot” of respect for Stafford.

However, any discussion about the Lions’ toughness — right or wrong — is a bad sign, according to coach Jim Caldwell.

“If you have to talk about it, then you probably aren’t,” he said Thursday. “So, let’s see how they react, how they respond, how they function.”

The Lions actually seemed to react in a way that was very much in the middle as tight end Brandon Pettigrew immediately shoved Barr, and coaches had to hold some players back as they jawed with the Vikings pass rusher.

Stafford said he thought the Lions responded appropriately and took issue with Harrison’s comments. Golden Tate did, too.

“I wouldn’t pay too much attention to that BS,” Tate said Monday. “That’s just someone trying to start something and give someone something to talk about.”

Harrison, who made the comments before “Sunday Night Football,” stood by his position in an interview on NBCSN’s “Pro Football Talk.”

“The No. 1 rule among a great football team is always protect your quarterback,” Harrison said Tuesday, via ProFootballTalk.com. “It’s on your sideline, a guy pushes your quarterback out of bounds, gives him a cheap shot. And Matthew Stafford may not think that that’s a big deal, but little things like that, they add up. They create a culture and attitude. And for me, I’m one of those guys where if that would have happened to Tom Brady, I would have punched that young guy right in his face, and I don’t care if cost me ($25,000) or $50,000.

“Do you think the Patriots would let this happen or the Indianapolis Colts or the Denver Broncos to Peyton Manning? Never, not on his sideline. So as I much as I like Matthew Stafford because of his toughness and things of that sort, he’s wrong on this one.”

Speaking on 97.1 FM Thursday morning, former coach Tony Dungy said he was “surprised” more Lions didn’t confront Barr, but didn’t think it was a sign of disrespect for Stafford.

There’s a fine line between soft and dirty, and in the eyes of some people, including Harrison, the Lions are on the wrong side at this point in the season.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/jkatzenstein

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