This wasn’t how David Blough wanted to win the job. It’s not how — or even when — he planned to enter Friday night’s final preseason game, either.
“But that’s football, man,” the Lions’ third-year quarterback said after a 27-17 loss to the Colts at Ford Field. “It doesn’t always go as planned.”
No, it doesn’t. And the hard part is, one man’s loss usually means another’s opportunity in the NFL, especially at this time of year when the final audition often ends on a sharp note for so many.
But in the case of the Lions’ quarterback competition, where Blough and Tim Boyle were battling throughout training camp to win the No. 2 job behind starter Jared Goff, an injury may prove to be the difference.
It’s also further proof an exhibition game is no place for a starting quarterback to be put in harm’s way. Which is why we don’t see much of it anymore across the league. And why Lions fans only got to see two series with Goff calling the shots before spending the rest of the preseason in a ballcap..
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Boyle injured his throwing hand on a sack-fumble on the fourth play from scrimmage in Friday’s game, getting hit from behind by rookie first-round pick Kwity Paye — the ex-Wolverine who looks like he could be a force immediately as a pro — and smacking his right hand on the helmet of the Colts’ Kemoko Turay.
Whether Boyle’s drop was too deep, or the protection was just that bad, the end result was not good at all. Boyle, who’d played ahead of Blough in the rotation in all three preseason games, came off the field shaking his hand.
He was back out on the field for the Lions’ second series, though, leading the offense on a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. But that was the end of his night, and late in the first half he wore a brace on that throwing hand on the sideline while Blough took over under center.
Boyle then was noticeably absent on the Lions’ bench for the entire second half. And judging by the tone of head coach Dan Campbell’s postgame comments, he won’t be available in a couple weeks when the Lions open the regular season at home against San Francisco on Sept. 12.
“We’ll know a lot more tomorrow,” Campbell said, “but we may have to prepare for him to be out for a little bit.”
And Blough can probably breathe a little easier about his job security, though I suspect the Lions’ plan all along was to carry all three quarterbacks on the final 53-man roster next week.
Blough, who actually started five games as an undrafted rookie in Detroit in 2019, including an impressive performance on Thanksgiving against Chicago, made it through waivers to the Lions’ practice squad last September. But then the team had to promote him to the active roster in October when Dallas tried to poach him.
He has been the more consistent of the two backups in camp the last few weeks, but Boyle has the bigger arm and seemingly more upside as a developmental quarterback. Boyle flashed some of that ability — as well as his toughness — on that scoring drive Friday, going 4-for-4 on third-down passing conversions, including the 15-yard touchdown toss to Quintez Cephus.
“You guys saw, he was dealing with (the injury) and had an incredible long drive,” Blough said. “We knew he was banged up. We didn’t know what it was gonna be. But that was a pretty awesome drive for him to fight through it and go out there and throw a touchdown pass and some big third-down conversions on that drive. It was gutsy.”
Prior to all that, Blough talked about being “thankful” for Boyle as a teammate, and that he’d be “praying for him” as he deals with this injury. It’s an injury that comes at just about the worst possible time for Boyle, a fourth-year pro who spent the last three seasons as a backup to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. But just how serious it is — Campbell referenced a thumb injury in his postgame comments — remains to be seen.
Blough, who hadn’t expected to see action until the second half, led the Lions to a touchdown on his second possession Friday as well. It was a 14-play, 65-yard scoring drive that included a couple of key third-down conversions — one with his arm, and another with his legs as scrambled and took some punishment in the process.
“Just trying to get first downs,” he shrugged afterward. “And I want our guys to see I’ll do whatever it takes to do that. Especially when it’s not pretty.”
But Blough also threw an ugly interception early in the fourth quarter that led to the Colts’ go-ahead field goal.
“I can’t do it,” he said. “I put our team in a compromised position in a tie ballgame. I just can’t turn the ball over. I’ve gotta throw the ball away or keep working through my progression. My feet were bad, I got a little bit uncomfortable and I tried to force something. I can’t do it. I put our defense in a really tough spot.”
And yet in the end, a tough injury may help put him in a better one. That’s football, as he noted.
Unless an injury sidelines Goff, it likely won’t play much of a factor in the football we see from the Lions this season, either. But if it does, Blough insists he’ll be ready.
“I know I’m better than I was last year, and I’m way better than I was as a rookie,” he said. “You just keep progressing, and you just keep taking steps in the right direction.”
And you just remember, every play can be someone’s last, which means you’re next.