Time has come for Detroit Lions to shut down QB Matthew Stafford

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Matthew Stafford is dealing with another injury, and if the Detroit Lions are smart, they will use this one as reason to hold him out of next week’s regular season finale.

Stafford left Saturday’s 47-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a right ankle injury, and while the extent of the injury is not known, there is no reason for the Lions to play him again this year.

Stafford already has willed his way onto the field through right thumb and rib injuries, and he no doubt will be out there next week against the Minnesota Vikings if given the chance.

But even if he is able to play, the right call now is to shut Stafford down for the season. His right thumb may or may not need surgery, but there is no denying his soon-to-be 33-year-old body can benefit from rest.

Stafford hobbled through one play after rolling his right ankle on the first series of Saturday’s embarrassing loss, then spent the next few minutes surrounded by doctors on the sideline.

It was fitting that he was hopping to the Lions locker room, unable to put weight on his right foot, as Tom Brady was throwing his second touchdown pass of the game.

Stafford returned to the sideline later in the first half, and by the end of the game was walking gingerly toward midfield to greet Brady. He did not do his usual postgame Zoom with reporters, and interim to the interim head coach Robert Prince did not offer any updates on his health.

“I’m not exactly sure of the exact injury,” Prince insisted, adding, “I have no idea,” when asked if Stafford might play next week.

Stafford has exuded toughness over his 12-year career, and this season has been no different. He has found a way to play through injuries that would sideline most others, and his teammates respect him dearly for that.

But with where the Lions stand now — at 5-10 with one meaningless game left before they turn this franchise over to a new head coach and general manager — it would border on organizational malfeasance to let Stafford play again.

Stafford is this franchise’s most valuable commodity, whether he returns for a 13th season or mercifully finds a new home in 2021. One way or another, either with his play on the field or through the draft pick he nets in a trade, he should help the Lions next fall, and putting him in harm’s way while he already is dealing with a trio of injuries can only complicate that.

A hobbled Stafford probably would give the Lions a better chance to win than backups Chase Daniel or David Blough next week. But that should be of secondary concern to protecting a quarterback who might not adequately be able to protect himself.

Daniel, who threw for a measly 86 yards in three quarters of work in Stafford’s absence Saturday, said he had no idea how badly Stafford was hurt, or whether he could make his first start as a Lion next week.

“Both of those, you know as much as I do,” Daniel said. “I just, I play here, and I do what they tell me. I literally know nothing about those two things. I just know Staff was like, ‘Hey man, I can’t go,’ and I was like, ‘All right, man, let’s go.’ So as simple a conversation as that.”

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Blough said Stafford was “not feeling great” after the game, but he, too, said he did not know how badly Stafford was hurt.

“He’s going to get that stuff looked at and it’s a bummer,” Blough said. “You come out and you never expect for that stuff to happen, especially as early on as it did, and I feel bad for him. That’s why Chase and I are here, to go out there and play. I wish Matthew the best of luck and I hope it comes back great and we’ll see where he’s at as the week goes on, I guess.”

Where it should be this week, at least when it comes to Stafford, is standing on the sideline with a headset on, helping whoever starts in his place.

This is not about tanking for a draft pick, and it’s not about getting a look at Blough for the future. It’s about protecting one of the few good things the Lions have left as they once again start planning for the future.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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