By: Will Burchfield
If Matthew Stafford plays on Sunday — and it’ll be a shocker if he doesn’t — the Buccaneers will have their eyes set on his battered right hand.
In a conference call with Detroit media on Wednesday, Buccs head coach Dirk Koetter said Stafford’s injury indeed changes his team’s preparation.
“We try to find a way to get a hold of that hand,” Koetter said.
Stafford suffered the injury in last Sunday’s loss to the Ravens when Terrell Suggs stepped on his right hand as the quarterback was falling to the ground. Stafford was briefly tended to on the sideline before being removed from the game.
Jake Rudock finished out Detroit’s 44-20 loss.
Stafford said on Wednesday he was “a little nervous walking off the field,” not knowing whether his hand was broken. X-Rays later showed it was badly bruised, but Jim Caldwell cautioned that Stafford isn’t yet in the clear.
“He’s not out of the woods yet. 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,” Caldwell said.
Stafford hadn’t yet tried to throw as of Wednesday morning and he was an onlooker during the open portion of practice Wednesday afternoon. But he’ll likely play on Sunday. The Lions can’t afford another loss if they have any hope of making the playoffs, and Stafford is no stranger to playing through pain.
“One thing that I’m so impressed with on him, is his toughness,” said Koetter. “I mean, he’s taken a lot of hits.”
Koetter pointed to the injury Stafford suffered on Thanksgiving when a Vikings’ defensive lineman rolled up on his ankle in the fourth quarter. Stafford limped off the field, had his ankle taped on the sideline and finished the game.
“It looked like he wouldn’t be able to come back from that, and he was back out there the next series. So I would never question his toughness,” said Koetter. “I’m sure if there’s any way possible, he’ll be out there (on Sunday).”
Fortunately for Stafford, the Buccs have struggled to pressure the quarterback this season. They rank last in the NFL with 17 sacks. Of course, the Lions haven’t done the best job of protecting Stafford, who’s been sacked the second most times (39) in the league.
If they leave him exposed on Sunday, expect the Buccs to aim for his injury.