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Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez discuss quarterback Matthew Stafford’s bruised hand.
Dave Birkett/Carlos Monarrez/Detroit Free Press

I have no idea how Matthew Stafford is doing.

But there are three possible scenarios after the Lions quarterback looked almost completely fine throwing passes with his bruised right hand during practice Thursday.

Either Stafford has healing powers that would make Lazarus jealous, or … Stafford has several Stafford bodies to choose from because he lives in one of the infinite universes of the “Rick and Morty” show, where there is an infinite number of Ricks, Mortys and Staffords, or … The Lions are just straight-up misleading everyone about the severity of Stafford’s injury and playing mind games with reporters, fans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

If it is in fact gamesmanship, it’s beyond stupid of the Lions to think they can trick the Bucs into disregarding Stafford and spending an inordinate amount of time preparing for Jake Rudock. Worst-case scenario, some poor Bucs quality-control assistant had to miss dinner with his wife while finding every speck of Rudock game film from the exhibition season and his time at Michigan and Iowa.

More: Detroit Lions’ woes fall on GM Bob Quinn just as much as Jim Caldwell

More: Lions backup QB Jake Rudock gets snaps, runs practice ‘smoothly’

What we do know is Stafford has been listed officially as “limited” on the practice report for two days. He suffered “burning nerve pain” and there was a concern about broken bones Sunday after Baltimore Ravens 265-pound linebacker Terrell Suggs stepped on his hand and forced him out of the game.

The good news for Stafford is that X-rays were negative and he hasn’t resorted to wearing any sort of extreme contraption on his hand. Just a little tape on his fingers.

But I’m going to put this out there. If Stafford’s hand compromises his effectiveness, or if the Lions are getting blown out, Stafford should come out of the game and — delicately, mind you — hand the ball to Rudock. The truth is that Stafford was lucky not to get severely hurt in Oct. 15’s 52-38 loss at New Orleans, just one week after he suffered a bad ankle sprain against Carolina. He might not be that lucky again while playing with a beat-up offensive line and an ineffective run game.

The Lions have a $135-million investment in Stafford. But instead of treating him like a valuable commodity, the Lions treat him like a toddler treats a yard-sale Tonka truck, trying to see how much he can abuse it before it breaks.

The Lions are 6-6 and I know they believe, like just about every other NFL team that hasn’t been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, that they can still qualify for the postseason. And we’ll be sure to hear idiotic statements about how all the Lions have to do is “get into the tournament.”

No. Stop. The NFL is not March Madness. And the Lions are not poised to go on some Cinderella run in the playoffs. If that were a true possibility, if the only thing preventing the Lions from reaching the Super Bowl was Stafford’s play, then I would advocate playing Stafford until he dropped. At that point, with the Lions’ first championship in 60 years possibly hanging in the balance, the risk to his hand would be worth it.

But this is a flawed team with lots of issues that is clinging by its fingernails to its playoff hopes. If you live in the Lions’ echo chamber, you have hope. If you live anywhere else, you’ll notice there is absolutely zero buzz about the Lions being a playoff team. The only national headlines that concern the Lions are about Stafford’s health so far as it affects fantasy teams.

Let’s not kid ourselves about the NFL’s brutality.

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was honest about what his team plans to do against Stafford. Koetter admitted Wednesday in a conference call with Detroit reporters that his defense is preparing to “try to find a way to get a hold of that hand.”

On Thursday, Lions coach Jim Caldwell tried to downplay Koetter’s words and Koetter himself walked back his comments, when both coincidentally used the words “in jest.” But it didn’t sound like a joke when Koetter said it Wednesday, and at least one of Caldwell’s veterans knew better.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” receiver Golden Tate said Wednesday. “I mean, you’ve got to find whatever edge, whatever you can do to win that game. If you find a weak spot, you go after it over and over and over. So I get that. It’s our job to make sure they don’t get to No. 9.”

It’s also the job of Lions coaches and executives to act responsibly and protect a player from himself.

Contact Carlos Monarrez: cmonarrez@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez. Download our free Lions Xtra app on your Apple and Android devices.