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Detroit Lions need nicked-up quarterback Matthew Stafford if they want to be able to make a run at playoffs

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, center, throws a pass during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 8 in Minneapolis. (AP file photo)

By STEVE REED

AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — 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 right 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 both Thursday and Friday.

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.”

Bridgewater is expected to be a game-time decision.

McCAFFREY NOT  LIKELY

Bridgewater’s injury is even more concerning considering the Panthers will again be without McCaffrey, their top offensive playmaker. He’ll 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 TDs. 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 TDs in 2020, but hasn’t been as effective in his past four starts.

SWIFT’S 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, and by Friday was ruled out for this weekend. Peterson and Kerryon Johnson will now get extra work.

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.

MORE INJURIES

Besides Bridgewater, Swift and the two quarterbacks, several other players are dealing with injuries on each team.

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eceivers Kenny Golladay (hip) and Danny Amendola (hip) were ruled out for Detroit on Friday, while tackle Russell Okung is doubtful after missing the past two games with a calf injury and cornerback Donte Jackson (toe) and guard John Miller (ankle) are doubtful as well for Carolina.

Swift is coming off an impressive game in which he had 81 yards rushing and 68 receiving, but the rookie won’t be able to build on that right away.

Detroit tight end T.J. Hockenson (toe) was a full participant in practice Friday.