Detroit Lions stock watch: First win long awaited, but No. 1 draft pick chances take a hit

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett breaks down the Detroit Lions‘ 29-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings, and looks at players who helped and hurt their stock Sunday at Ford Field:

Stock up

WR Amon-Ra St. Brown: A rookie fourth-round pick out of USC, St. Brown gave the Lions’ passing game a huge lift Sunday on a day Jared Goff did not have D’Andre Swift to lean on. St. Brown set career-highs with 10 catches and 86 yards, and he caught the game-winning touchdown pass — the first walk-off TD he has scored at any level — as time expired. Goff praised St. Brown after the game, saying he’s “a stud and will be a stud for as long as he wants to be in this league.”

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DE Charles Harris: Harris got off to a hot start this season, recording sacks in four straight games, but he hit a nearly two-month dry spell before rebounding in a big way Sunday. Harris beat Oli Udoh for a sack-fumble to set up the Lions’ second touchdown in the second quarter, then beat tight end Tyler Conklin for a sack on the next series. He signed a one-year deal with the Lions as a free agent last offseason and is a player worth keeping around going forward.

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QB Jared Goff: Goff committed two turnovers in the fourth quarter that nearly cost the Lions a victory. That’s inexcusable for a veteran quarterback in a tight game. But Goff also had his most aggressive downfield passing performance of the season and showed resilience in rallying the Lions to victory. He has caught a lot of heat this season, and rightfully so. Now he has to make Sunday’s heroics something to build on.

[ Dan Campbell dedicates game ball to Oxford: ‘Special things happen in special circumstances’ ]

Stock down

C Evan Brown: Brown has held his own as a replacement for Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow most of the season, but he struggled with Vikings defensive linemen Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson at times Sunday. The Lions still ran for 100 yards, but they failed to convert a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak early when Brown and right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai got no push on the play.

MORE ON BROWN: How racing cars gave Lions C the fearlessness to succeed in NFL

Starting running backs: Swift and Dalvin Cook sat out Sunday’s game with injuries, but that did not stop the Lions or Vikings from being able to manufacture respectable running games. Jamaal Williams (17 carries, 71 yards) led the Lions on the ground, while Alexander Mattison had 90 yards rushing and a touchdown for the Vikings. There’s no disputing that Swift and Cook are two of the NFL’s top playmakers at their position, but Sunday’s game was just another reminder for teams to be wary of overcommitting capital to the position.

The Lions chances of getting the No. 1 pick: Don’t misconstrue this: The Lions badly needed a win Sunday and everyone should be happy they got one. But with five games to play, the Lions’ odds of picking first in next spring’s draft did take a slight hit. The Lions need to lose out to clinch the No. 1 pick. If they win once, they open the door for the loser of the Houston Texans-Jacksonville Jaguars game Dec. 19 to pick first overall. With winnable road games left on their schedule against the Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks (plus home dates with the Arizona Cardinals and a Green Bay Packers team that could be resting its starters in Week 17), nothing is guaranteed.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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