Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford 'not out of the woods yet'

By The Sports Xchange  |  Dec. 7, 2017 at 1:35 PM
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford ranks third among NFL quarterbacks with 108 straight starts, but he is no lock to make it 109.

Stafford did not practice Wednesday because of a swollen throwing hand he suffered in last week's loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said he is "not out of the woods yet" when it comes to his availability for Sunday's must-win game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"We'll kind of see what he can do and as the week goes on," Caldwell said. "It's not like it's an 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. He's not out of the woods."

Stafford said he has regained full sensation in his hand after complaining of nerve pain immediately after he suffered the injury, and he did not have tape on his right pinky, ring and middle fingers on Wednesday like he did earlier in the week.

Still, Stafford said he has not yet tried throwing the ball and declined to say if he could play if there was a game today.

"It's getting better," Stafford said. "Spend a lot of time with our trainers and doing all the stuff I can to try to get it feeling as good as it can."

Over the past six seasons, Stafford has played through two different injuries to his right hand with modest results. Last year, he threw five interceptions in 19 quarters while playing with a sprained middle finger. In 2011, he tossed nine picks in three games while playing with a broken index finger.

The Lions went 2-6 in those games.

"Obviously, the doctors will kind of take a look at it and see where he is, and then from there it's just management of can he function, can he do all the things you're asking him to do and that entails quite a bit because he handles the ball obviously on every play from an offensive standpoint," Caldwell said. "So we'll see where he is. He's got to be able to function, and oftentimes he comes through. But like I said, this one's going to take a little work."

SERIES HISTORY: 57th regular-season meeting. Lions lead series, 30-26, and have won three of the last four matchups. In the only playoff meeting between the former NFC Central rivals, the Buccaneers beat the Lions, 20-10, in 1997 when Tampa Bay held Barry Sanders to just 65 yards rushing.

--If Stafford can't play Sunday, Jake Rudock will start at quarterback.

Rudock, a sixth-round pick out of Michigan last season, took his first NFL snaps last week against the Ravens and finished 3-of-5 passing for 24 yards and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

"You can't create a true game environment (in practice), so definitely having experienced those feelings and everything that comes with that (last week was helpful)," Rudock said. "I don't know how to really explain it, but I think just having experience, that helps a little bit."

Lions receiver Golden Tate said the offense "operated pretty smoothly" with Rudock in the huddle in practice Wednesday, and Stafford said Rudock will be ready to start if need be.

"I think the more time you spend learning the offense and seeing reps and all that kind of stuff, preseason reps, all those things count for him," Stafford said. "And he's done a nice job of improving, not only physically maturing and throwing the ball really well, but also the mental aspect of the game. What we do on offense is challenging for the quarterback and he's done a really nice job."

--Akeem Spence has had Sunday's game marked on his calendar since he left Tampa and signed with the Lions as a free agent in March.

"It's just something where you've been somewhere four years and you help build it up and then you got to go disappear elsewhere, I took that kind of personal cause I felt like I was one of the good guys around that building," Spence said. "Obviously, those weren't my coaches, so they didn't have any loyalty to me, so it is what it is."

Spence, who played his first four NFL seasons in Tampa, said he signed with the Lions over the Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers after the Bucs made no attempt to bring him back.

A rotational tackle in Tampa, Spence moved into the starting lineup in October after Haloti Ngata went down with a torn biceps. Spence has 24 tackles and 1.5 sacks this year.

"They're going to have to deal with this whole D-line, especially me, because this one I've had circled for a long time," Spence said. "It's just exciting to go back home, obviously, playing against your former team. I kind of, I can't really say what I want to say, but just know it's going to be kind of personal. This one's real personal."

NOTES: RB Tion Green ran well enough in his debut last week that the Lions are considering using him as their No. 3 running back, even with Ameer Abdullah on track to return from a neck injury. Green isn't as good a pass protector as Zach Zenner, who has played as the Lions' third-down back recently, but Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said the rookie "did well" overall against the Ravens. ... PR Jamal Agnew (knee) returned to practice on Wednesday and is expected back in the lineup this weekend. Agnew remains the only player in the NFL with two returns for touchdowns this year. ... CB Darius Slay ranks tops in fan voting among NFC cornerbacks. Slay has a $550,000 escalator in his contract for 2018 that kicks in if he reaches 80 percent playing time this year, something he is a lock to do as long as he stays healthy, and is selected to the Pro Bowl.

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