CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Matthew Stafford has earned a reputation for being tough and playing through injuries.
The Detroit Lions are going to need their franchise quarterback to be tough — and to stay on the field — if they hope to rebound from a 4-5 start and make a run at the NFC playoffs.
If the Lions are going to make a run, it probably needs to happen now.
Detroit is preparing to face three struggling teams in the Panthers, Texans and Bears, given them a golden opportunity to build some momentum heading into the final four games of the season.
First up is Carolina, which will be without star running back Christian McCaffrey and possibly quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is dealing with a knee sprain. If Bridgewater sits out the Panthers will turn to either Will Grier or P.J. Walker, who have two combined starts between them at quarterback.
But Lions coach Matt Patricia isn't going to overlook Carolina regardless of who is playing QB.
“Carolina is going to be ready to go,” Patricia said. “It’s a copycat league. There’s things that come up in the game that are going to show up in the next game or a couple games down the road. So we have to get that stuff cleaned up and try to improve. For us, we just try to stay within the week and make sure we’re focused on that because I think if you looked outside of that, you can just get distracted.”
Stafford is dealing with an injury of his own.
He injured his right thumb in the first half of Detroit's 30-27 win over Washington last Sunday, but went on to throw for 276 yards and three touchdowns. X-rays were negative. Stafford rested the thumb on Wednesday, but returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday.
Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye said Stafford looked good in practice and appeared as if he hadn't missed a beat.
Bridgewater said Thursday he's not sure if he'll be ready to play.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule said while the QB is making throws in practice, he hasn't tested out his mobility.
“I don't know what we will do until he does," Rhule said Thursday. “We are 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, then we are going to play him.”
McCAFFREY NOT EXPECTED TO PLAY
Bridgewater's injury is even more concerning considering the Panthers will again be without running back Christian McCaffrey, their top offensive playmaker. McCaffrey will miss his eighth game of the season because of an injury — the past two because of a sprained AC joint in his shoulder.
McCaffrey has been effective when he plays, averaging 124.7 yards from scrimmage and scoring six touchdowns. The Panthers have struggled in the red zone without him.
Mike Davis would get the start for McCaffrey. Davis has totaled 675 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns in 2020, but hasn’t been as effective in his past four starts for the Panthers.
SWIFT DEALING WITH CONCUSSION
Detroit drafted D’Andre Swift in the second round this year and he appeared to emerge as the team’s No. 1 running back last week after gaining a season-high 149 yards from scrimmage in his first NFL start. Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said days later that the pecking order in the backfield was made clear to 35-year-old Adrian Peterson.
However, Swift was added to the injury report with a concussion on Thursday and did not practice, leaving his playing status for Sunday up in the air. Peterson and Kerryon Johnson would get extra work if Swift is held out.
Swift had 81 yards rushing and season highs with 16 carries and 68 yards receiving and matched a season high with five receptions, including a short one he turned into a 15-yard score, in the win over Washington. The former Georgia star has 331 yards rushing, is averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and has four touchdowns along with 31 catches for 275 and two more scores.
Detroit defensive end Everson Griffen, acquired last month in a trade with Dallas, had his first sack in his second game with the Lions against Washington. He also made a pivotal play that didn’t show up in the box score, helping stop a reverse without making a tackle.
“Everson has a tremendous amount of energy,” Patricia said of Everson, who has 3 1/2 sacks in nine games this season and 78 in his career, ranking 15th among active players.
THIRD DOWN WOES
The Panthers' defense has really struggled getting off the field on third downs.
Carolina is allowing opponents to convert a league-high 55.3% of third down chances. Last week Tom Brady converted 10 of 16 third down chances and the Buccaneers piled up 30 first downs in all in a 46-23 drubbing of the Panthers.
“We (stink) in that department,” Panthers cornerback Rasul Douglas said. “We haven’t been able to do it, while we as a defense have to find a way to do it. I think the coaches are putting us in positions to get off the field and we’re not doing it, myself included.”
WATCH THE FAKE
The Panthers have tried a fake punt in each of the past three games, with two of those resulting in first downs. However, last week's attempt didn't fool anyone as punter Joe Charlton was sacked for a 5-yard loss on a fourth-and-5 giving the Buccaneers the ball at the Carolina 40.
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.
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