By FRED GOODALL, AP Sports Writer

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Injured throwing hand or not, Matthew Stafford is determined to keep the Detroit Lions in the race for a playoff spot.

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And he insists he’s not playing attention to rumors about the future of Jim Caldwell, whose job could depend on whether the team gets in.

“Listen, man, we go play and he goes and coaches,” Stafford said after Sunday’s 24-21 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept the Lions (7-6) in the running.

“He understands (it’s) part of the business. We understand. Who knows,” the quarterback added. “I’m not on social media, so I don’t know all of that crap. We just go play, man. … Our job is to win football games. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Stafford made his 109th consecutive start despite being limited in practice last week with a bruised right hand that was stepped on during Detroit’s previous game, a loss at Baltimore.

The ninth-year pro threw for 381 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also led the 32nd game-winning drive of his career, moving the Lions 49 yards in the closing minutes to set up Matt Prater’s 46-yard field goal with 20 seconds left.

The victory stopped a two-game skid that accelerated speculation about Caldwell’s future.

“We’ve never, never ever, ever been in the practice of talking about contracts and anything of that nature, and we’re certainly not going to start today,” Caldwell said.

The Bucs (4-9) have lost eight of 10 and were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

They haven’t made the postseason since 2007, and now there’s talk that quarterback Jameis Winson is unhappy with coach Dirk Koetter.

Player and coach both tried to defuse the notion after Winston threw for 285 yards, a pair of fourth-quarter TDs and turned the ball over three times against the Lions.

“Obviously a lot of stuff can come out when we’re not doing as expected. But that’s false,” Winston said. “Coach Koetter coaches his tail off. He definitely supports me. So whatever anybody else has to say outside of that … that’s water under a bridge. That’s shocking.”

Koetter also denied that there is a rift, adding that he’s troubled by speculation about tension between the two.

“It concerns me that we’re not winning enough games. That’s my biggest concern,” Koetter said. “I know the truth about our relationship. My big concern is our football team.”

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The Lions haven’t done a very good job of protecting the passer this season, yielding 39 sacks. But they shut out Tampa Bay’s anemic pass rush, which has a NFL-low 17 sacks in 13 games.

“Detroit is a good passing team. Stafford gets the ball out of his hand. But 44 pass attempts and you don’t ever get him on the ground,” Koetter said. “That’s going to stress your coverage, and they do a good job with their receivers. They’ve got all the routes. They’ve got all the answers.”


Stafford’s streak of 109 consecutive starts is the third-longest among NFL quarterbacks behind Matt Ryan (128) and Philip Rivers (119).

“It was a process throughout the week. I don’t miss any practice reps if something isn’t bothering me,” Stafford said.

“I love to practice. I love to be out there,” he added. “Our guys on the training staff did an unbelievable job of helping me out, getting it feeling as good as it possibly could. Our guys today did a good job of keeping me upright.”


Brent Grimes had one of Tampa Bay’s two interceptions of Stafford, who completed 36 of 44 passes.

“He looked good to me. He was still throwing the ball, making some good throws. He looked like himself,” Grimes said. “I’m sure he was hurting, but he did a good job.”


The Bucs will close the season with three games against NFC South rivals. Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans are all fighting for playoff berths.

Koetter was asked how, at 4-9, he will keep players motivated down the stretch.

“They’re paid to compete, and we’re paid to coach them,” Koetter said. “We’ll do that.”
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