"He will be back ...," said Lions coach Jim Schwartz on Monday.
The 'He' was referring to Matthew Stafford. The ellipsis was intentional. If anyone is keeping count, the Lions are going on three and a half weeks without their starting quarterback, who continues to recover from a bum throwing shoulder. But, other than losses, each of those weeks have been shrouded in mystery, as the team's coaching staff has kept his prognosis and status concealed within James Bond's glove compartment.
So will Stafford make his return in Sunday's home tilt against St. Louis?
"Whether it's this week or not, whether it's next week or not is still yet to be determined," said Schwartz. "He is right on course but again, we are talking about a quarterback and his throwing shoulder. We are going to be very judicious."
In other words, no one will really know until Wednesday. And even then, the answer could be muddied.
Stafford has admittedly done what he's called 'light throwing' since last week. The team has consulted many times with Dr. James Andrews, the renowned sports doc in Alabama, who has given the green-light for the second-year quarterback to start using the well-rested, but very high-priced arm. That's a good sign, an indication that there's no permanent, residual damage to Stafford's ability to throw.
But can he use it against the Rams?
"We'll see. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," said Stafford.
Perhaps more importantly, should he?
Publicly, the Lions want to put the team in the best position to win immediately. They finally have talent on the field to at least remain competetive in every game, but are devoid of the things required to win. Privately, and perhaps more prudently, they have no illusions about a post-season berth. Resting at the bottom of one of the league's more staut divisions, the 0-4 start has, if nothing else, underscored the Achilles heel of the entire franchise: lack of depth -- the painful reminder and ubiquitous result stemming from a previous regime that too often went to the lot and left with a lemon.
A win against St. Louis, which might be entirely possible with even Hill behind center, sounds ideal on paper. Unless it means jeopardizing a name synonymous with the resurrection of Detroit football.
In the grand scheme, there's little difference between 1-4 and 0-5. But there's a significant difference between, 'He played too soon,' and 'He's returning well-rested.'
The fate of Stafford's arm has long-term repercussions, and if that means swallowing short-term failure to ensure a more fruitful future, so be it. What's the worst that could happen? They lose every game?
The Lions extended back-up quarterback Shaun Hill's contract during the off-season, putting their faith on paper than Stafford's reserve was capable of managing the ball club in his absence. He has responded with a 70.2 QB rating, completing 60 percent of his passes and tossing seven interceptions versus five touchdowns.
Or, basically, back-up quarterback numbers.
"Matt's situation would be separate from the way Shaun was playing," explained Schwartz. "He's battling and giving us a chance to win, but you are talking about a young quarterback (in Stafford) -- and we won't put him back before we're sure he's ready."
The Lions have two more games, including Sunday, before the bye week. That is another three weeks of rest for an arm that obviously is concerning enough to keep confidential.
If Detroit wants to play it smart, they don't play their most important player.
Notebook: (Compiled by TheSportsXchange)
- The Lions have given up 24 points off turnovers in four games. They have been outscored by a total of 24 points in the four losses. On top of that, the Lions have also killed scoring drives by turning it over at the 33, 23, 17, 10 and 4.
- QB Shaun Hill's 40-yard scramble was the Lions' longest run from scrimmage on Sunday and it also was a source of great amusement to his teammates. Said one player, "He told us he ran a 10.8 100 in high school and we highly doubted that. After seeing that, now we know for sure," QB Matthew Stafford said.
The last time a Lions' quarterback had a run of at least 40 yards was in 1984, by Gary Danielson.
- WR Nate Burleson missed his second straight game with an ankle injury Sunday. It pained him greatly to sit on the sideline and watch the Lions throw the ball 54 times. "It was a like a dog on a leash staring at a steak," he said. "I want to get out there on Sunday, hopefully at full strength and it will be time for me to eat, too." Burleson ran with cleats on for the first time, and he ran routes. He has given himself the green light to play Sunday, but coach Jim Schwartz said that he wouldn't make any determination on his status until after he sees him on the field Wednesday and Thursday.
- The Lions' special teams forced two fumbles by Packers KR Jordy Nelson Sunday. It's their 10th special teams takeaway since 2008, the most in the NFL.
- RB Kevin Smith doesn't want to answer any more questions about his surgically-repaired knee. "You can stop asking about the knee," he said. "There is no such thing as a knee injury any more. It's fine - until I get hurt again. I am feeling fine and I am ready to get to practice and hopefully get more reps this week." Smith carried the ball just four times against the Packers.
- OT Jeff Backus had one of the better performances of his career Sunday. He was matched with Packers' rushing linebacker Clay Matthews throughout the game. Matthews had one sack, on a play where Shaun Hill held the ball too long. Other than that, Backus kept Matthews off of Hill.
- CB Alphonso Smith, who has two interceptions, is expected to replace Jonathan Wade in the starting lineup. Wade has struggled mightily in man-to-man coverage
- .Jason Hanson kicked four field goals in a game Sunday for the 22nd time in his career. He is tied with Gary Anderson for third place in league history for most games with four field goals.
- TE Brandon Pettigrew had eight catches for 91 yards, a career high. That's the fourth best single game performance by a Lions tight end and the most since David Hill caught nine in 1981.
- SS Randy Phillips, released last week, was signed to the practice squad. OL Cody Wallace was released.
- OG Manuel Ramirez was released. Only quarterback Drew Stanton and receiver Calvin Johnson remain from Detroit's 2007 draft class.
- OG Jamon Meredith was claimed off waivers by the Lions. Meredith started four games as a rookie for Buffalo last season. He played collegiately at tackle, but transitioned inside since joining the league as a fifth-round draft choice (Green Bay).