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Thursday, November 26, 2009
Stafford decision: Dramatic but risky

By Kevin Seifert

I don’t think there’s any doubt Ford Field will go nuts this afternoon the first time quarterback Matthew Stafford steps on the field. As you probably know by now, Stafford will start Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day game against Green Bay.

Andrew Weber/US PresswireDetroit quarterback Matthew Stafford is starting Thursday, just four days after he separated his left shoulder.
Whether the Lions are nuts for playing him is another story. Stafford separated his left shoulder four days ago in a violent hit at the end of the Lions’ 38-37 victory over Cleveland. He was listed as doubtful on the injury report and the decision to play him Sunday comes as a big surprise to everyone.

I realize the injury is to Stafford’s left shoulder. He’s a right-handed quarterback, so a big part of Stafford’s challenge Thursday this will be pain tolerance, not whether he can make the necessary throws. I’m obviously no doctor, but one thing I’ve learned about sports injuries is that athletes often compensate for them. Even if it’s on a subconscious level, they sometimes alter one part of their mechanics to protect another.

That’s one of many reasons the Lions are flat-out taking a risk with their franchise player. There’s no doubt the Lions need more, not less, of the kind of heroics Stafford supplied last weekend. It’s fair to ask, however, whether it’s smart to trot him back out on the field four days later.

We might not know the answer for a while. It’s possible the Lions exaggerated the extent of his injury during the week for competitive advantage.

But I hope this isn’t a stunt designed to inspire fans or set some kind of new franchise standard for toughness. I also hope the Lions didn’t let themselves get talked into it by an enthusiastic but inexperienced 21-year-old. This is a major decision that will play a big role in my judgment of coach Jim Schwartz, one way or the other, at the end of the season.