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O'HARA'S MIDWEEK THOUGHTS: Stafford wants to play in season finale

Midweek Thoughts: Matthew Stafford wanting to play (of course) and commenting on his future, endorsements for Chris Spielman and Calvin Johnson and special plays for special teams:

First it was the right thumb on Stafford's passing hand, then his rib and now his right ankle.

Whatever was hurt, and likely is still hurting, Stafford is doing whatever he can to start at quarterback for the Detroit Lions against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday in the final game of the season at Ford Field.

It is a meaningless game in terms of impact on anything except the draft order in 2021. The Vikings have a 6-9 won-loss record, and the Lions are 5-10 and facing what could be a massive overhaul in the 2021 season.

It is in Stafford's warrior mentality to play, unless he is risking further injury. That was the case last year, when he missed the last eight games with a back injury.

His answers to questions posed this week about why he'll play if he's healthy enough are in line with everything he has said in similar situations in the past.

"If I'm good, I want to be out there," he said. "I want to play ... do everything I can to try to get out there toward the end of the week. We have to kind of figure it out day to day – see how it responds to treatment and all that.

"I'm just trying to make sure I do everything I can to give myself a chance – give myself a chance to be able to get out there and help our guys and help them compete.

"I love playing. I just want to be out there if I can and try to help our team."

My take: If Stafford wants to play and he is cleared medically, play him.

Interim head coach Darrell Bevell stressed Wednesday that health and safety come first in deciding if Stafford can play.

There has been speculation that it might be mutually beneficial for the Lions and Stafford to part company after this season. A trade would land Stafford with a team ready to win, and it would give the Lions draft picks to shore up the roster.

Stafford has remained consistent in saying he does not look at the future, but he's also aware that he does not have complete control of his future.

"I've been in this business a long time," he said. "I understand it. You have to do everything you can to focus on what's right in front of you.

"All I know is, wherever I am, if it's here or somewhere else, I'll be doing everything I can to try to be as good a football player and as good a teammate as I possibly can be.

"That's something I've always tried to be and will continue to try to be as long as I'm playing this game."

Props for Chris Spielman: He has gotten good reviews from prominent NFL people since being hired by the Lions as a special assistant to principal owner Shelia Ford Hamp and team president Rod Wood.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has a personal insight on Chris Spielman from the many Vikings games Spielman worked as an analyst.

Chris is the brother of Vikings GM Rick Spielman, who's in his 15th year with the franchise.

"I know he's a very knowledgeable football guy," Zimmer said of Chris Wednesday in a conference call interview with the Detroit media. "He's a hard worker. He's very dedicated to football."

Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman praised the hiring of Chris Spielman in a recent broadcast, calling him "old school."

Vote for Megatron: Zimmer made a strong pitch for retired Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Johnson is a semifinalist in the cutdown to 25 candidates for the 2021 class.

"He's one of the very best to ever play the game," said Zimmer, who faced him as defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals and head coach of the Vikings since 2014.

Zimmer referred to a catch Johnson made when Zimmer was still with the Bengals.

"We had three guys on him," Zimmer said. "He made an unbelievable catch, about a 50-yarder. The game plan revolved around him every time we played him."

Voting on the 2021 class is Feb. 7, the day before Super Bowl LV in Tampa.

View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Wednesday Dec. 30, 2020.

Specialists: All three units – offense, defense and special teams – played the Bucs without their regular coordinator. Special teams was the least affected unit.

It's been generally strong all season, and it stayed that way.

Jamal Agnew had the big play of the day, a 74-yard punt return for the Lions' only touchdown.

On eight punts Jack Fox had a gross average of 47.8 yards, a net of 42.8 and five punts inside the 20. The Bucs averaged 4.0 yards on five punt returns, with a long return of eight yards.

Veterans such as Miles Killebrew and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are core special teamers who set the tempo for the unit, but some credit should go to assistant special teams coach Marquice Williams who stepped up after the firing of special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs.

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