Matthew Stafford, Lions coy about injury, but he'll likely start

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The Lions are playing coy with quarterback Matthew Stafford’s injured throwing hand, but even though the team isn’t going to say it, it’s a near certainty he’ll be in uniform and taking the opening snap when the Lions travel to Tampa Bay to battle the Buccaneers this Sunday.

Stafford declined to show reporters his hand during his typical Wednesday press conference. He dressed for practice, but didn’t throw, keeping his hands buried in handwarmer for nearly all of the portion open to the media. And later, in the locker room, he walked around with his hand under a towel or a coat, hidden from prying eyes.

A quick glimpse of the injury during practice revealed he had two digits individually taped — his pinkie and ring finger. That’s better than Monday, when his middle finger was also bandaged.

Maybe it’s playing up the competitive advantage the Lions believe the uncertainty provides, but there’s little reason to doubt he’ll play.

“One thing that I’m so impressed with on him, on Matthew, is his toughness,” Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said during a conference call with Detroit reporters. “I mean, he’s taken a lot of hits. What was it, either a week or two ago when he got his ankle rolled up on. I guess that maybe that was even on Thanksgiving, I mean it looked like he wouldn’t be able to come back that and he was back out there the next series. So, yeah, I would never question his toughness.”

It’s been officially called a bruise, and given the litany of issues he’s played through the past seven seasons, during a streak of 108 consecutive starts, it’s difficult to imagine this being the issue that snaps this streak.

Still, Lions coach Jim Caldwell wasn’t about to make any guarantees Stafford would start this week.

“Well, he’s not out of the woods yet,” Caldwell said. “I mean, we’ll kind of see what he can do as the week goes on. It’s not like it’s some insignificant injury. That’s not the case. It’s something that he’s going to have to really work at and deal with here during the course of the week to see where he is.”

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Stafford suffered the injury when he was accidentally stepped on by Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. The x-rays were negative and the “burning nerve pain” Stafford said he felt during a postgame interview has since cleared. But prior to Wednesday, he hadn’t attempt to throw a football and he didn’t show any evidence he could.

But his the same guy that played through a dislocated middle finger on his throwing hand last season and a broken index finger in 2011. He’s battled through an ankle injury this year, and quadricep, ribs, arm and hamstring issues since the last time he missed a game, in 2010. He hasn’t even missed a practice since five years and Wednesday was the first time he was listed as limited since Sept. 27, 2012.

Asked if he would play if the Lions had a game schedule on Wednesday, Stafford said it was a good question. When it was pointed out that wasn’t an answer, he quipped, “That’s my answer.”

The Lions don’t have a game on Wednesday. They have five more days to get ready. And that should be more than enough time for Stafford.