Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford, Carolina Panthers’ Teddy Bridgewater define toughness at QB

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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As news reports ran the gamut this week about Teddy Bridgewater’s availability for Sunday’s game, first that the knee injury he suffered last week was minor, then that it might keep him out a week or longer, and finally that he might play after all, Matt Patricia stayed focused on what he knows: That the Carolina Panthers quarterback is a gamer who will do everything in his power to play against the Detroit Lions.

“I mean, certainly, I’m getting ready for Teddy Bridgewater,” Patricia said Friday. “This guy’s a tough, tough dude. He’s going to be out there and ready to go.”

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Bridgewater suffered a knee injury in last week’s loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that severely limited his practice time this week.

The Panthers (3-7) spent the week preparing backups P.J. Walker and Will Grier to play, but Carolina coach Matt Rhule disputed an NFL Network report from Thursday that Bridgewater is unlikely to play Sunday.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Rhule said Friday.

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Asked what he would say, Rhule called Bridgewater a true game-time decision.

“He’s extremely limited right now,” Rhule said. “He’s throwing all the routes and stuff, but not with anyone around him. We don’t want him to get stepped on or hurt. But I mean, he’s moving around well in terms of jogging. Hasn’t really opened up yet. I don’t know what he’ll do until he does that and we’re trying to be smart about when to do that. He’s preparing as if he’s going to play. If we get to Sunday and he feels like he can play, or Saturday if he feels like, ‘Hey, I can definitely do this,’ then we’re going to play him.”

If Bridgewater is on the field, Sunday’s game should feature two of the NFL’s most respected tough guys at a quarterback position where that quality is often overlooked.

Bridgewater suffered a “horribly grotesque” non-contact knee injury on the eve of the 2016 season that nearly derailed his career.

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He was entering his third NFL season at the time, the leader of the defending NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings, and his injury was so severe — his doctor compared it to a war wound where “everything is blown” — that the Vikings were willing to let the most precious commodity in football, a good young quarterback, hit unrestricted free agency two years later.

Bridgewater spent a few months with the New York Jets in 2018, was traded to the New Orleans Saints, and showed in five starts off the bench last year that he still could be a quality NFL quarterback.

He parlayed that experience into a three-year, $63 million deal with the Panthers this offseason, and has been one of the few bright spots on a team that’s played most of the season without starting running back Christian McCaffrey and left tackle Russell Okung because of injuries.

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“Teddy Bridgewater’s an extremely tough player,” Patricia said.

The same can be said for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, whose pain tolerance and willingness to play through injury has endeared him to teammates for years.

Stafford made 136 straight starts in the 2011-19 seasons before broken bones in his back forced him to miss the final eight games of last year.

Derisively called a “China doll” by one of his ex-teammates early in his career, after he missed time in 2009 with knee and shoulder injuries and most of the 2010 season with a bad shoulder, Stafford has played through an assortment of ankle, knee, rib and hand injuries over his career, and is expected to start Sunday despite partially torn ligaments in his right thumb.

Stafford practiced on a limited basis all week, and teammates and coaches said he showed no ill effects from the injury he played the final three quarters with in last week’s win over Washington.

“The quarterback position, I think, is one that is so underrated, the toughness of it,” Patricia said. “Honestly, there’s so many hits that you don’t see that guys take as the ball is thrown. And honestly, when you’re standing back there behind it sometimes as just a coach or somebody watching, and you see a guy just throw the ball as hard as he can, as far as he can, be in that just complete vulnerable position and then have a 300-pound grown man hit you as hard as he can, (that) takes a lot of courage and a lot of toughness to do that, and to do that over and over and over.”

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Patricia said he learned how tough quarterbacks were as a young assistant in 2008, when Philip Rivers played through a torn ACL in the AFC championship game. Patricia’s New England Patriots beat Rivers’ San Diego Chargers that day, but Rivers threw for 211 yards and forever established himself in NFL lore.

“He stepped out there and just ripped it, and I was like, ‘These guys are unbelievable what they go through,’” Patricia said. “So it never ceases to amaze me from that aspect of it.”

In that regard, neither Patricia nor anyone else will be amazed if Sunday’s Lions-Panthers game turns into a Stafford-Bridgewater duel.

The Lions, like the Panthers, are without several key offensive starters due to injury — running back D’Andre Swift and receivers Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola already have been ruled out of the game — and both teams need their quarterbacks to stay competitive.

The Lions went 0-8 without Stafford last season, and Carolina’s current backup situation might be worse than the Jeff Driskel-David Blough duo the Lions rolled with last year.

Both Stafford and Bridgewater played coy this week when asked about their availability for Sunday, but no one will be surprised if both are on the field.

“Matthew Stafford is one of the toughest I’ve ever been around,” Patricia said. “I mean, he’s unbelievable what he just consistently can turn his mind off to and go out and play at a high level. Teddy Bridgewater’s an extremely tough player, too. This guy has overcome so much. He’s persevered, he’s a great player, he’s athletic, he’s strong, breaks a lot of tackles. He’s a tough guy.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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