Detroit — Back in April, as each round of the NFL Draft passed, Detroit Lions fans bemoaned the lack of attention that general manager Brad Holmes gave to the wide receiver position.
With the 112th pick, the Lions got their guy from USC in Amon-Ra St. Brown. And with little receiver talent on the roster this season, it took longer for St. Brown to get going than most — including Dan Campbell and Jared Goff — would have liked.
But with no time on the clock against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, there was the rookie from Southern Cal, running a play specifically designed for him, hauling in the 11-yard winning pass — his first career touchdown — to give the Lions a Hollywood ending in their first win of the season, 29-27.
“It was crazy,” St. Brown said. “We worked that play all the time in practice. We’ve been working at it since camp, and it finally showed up.
“My first NFL touchdown, first NFL win. I’m going to remember this day for a long time. The way it happened, the way it unfolded, it just couldn’t be any better.”
Goff took the shotgun snap with one man in the backfield, saw St. Brown sit down at a soft spot in the zone, and fired it to him for the winning score. For St. Brown, it felt like the ball took an eternity to reach him.
“As I broke in,” St. Brown said, “I was wide-open, actually. I was like, ‘No way.’ I was looking at Jared, I was like, ‘Oh, please just throw it.’ The ball was in the air, I was like, ‘This can’t take any longer,’ because I know the DB is coming from behind.
“So I was just sitting there waiting, because I couldn’t really attack it. I didn’t want to get back into the field of play. I want to stay in the end zone, so once I caught it, I knew the game was over.”
Coming into Sunday, St. Brown ranked fourth on the Lions in receiving yards, averaging just 32 yards per game on a team that was desperate for a No. 1 wide receiver to emerge. He took a step in the right direction even before adding the game-winning catch to his stat sheet, hauling in 10 catches for 86 yards on the day.
Goff said afterward that he and Campbell have been trying to figure a way for St. Brown to get more touches. Part of that solution? Making him the first read on Detroit’s ‘we need a touchdown on this play’ play.
“We have a play that we’ve been running probably since training camp, is that exact play, for that exact situation,” Goff said. “A few weeks ago we actually switched it and put St. Brown as that guy that’s going to catch that ball in the game-winning situation, and sure enough, he showed up.”
While the Lions certainly deserve credit for pulling off the drive as a whole (they went 75 yards in 14 plays with only 1:50 on the clock and no timeouts, for Pete’s sake), St. Brown said the Vikings sinking their defenders so far into the end zone was “actually crazy.”
“I think (the defenders were) like three or four yards into the end zone,” St. Brown said. “And shoot, I only need to get it a yard or centimeter in to score, so to see him so far off, I knew it was going to be a good play.”
Campbell said St. Brown’s catch in crunch time merely added to a growing set of confidence that he and Goff have in the rookie wideout, and that having success in different areas of the offense allowed St. Brown to get more looks.
“I’ll be honest with you, we have a lot of trust in him,” Campbell said. “We have for a while, it’s just trying to get him the football here and a little bit staying on the field. … Our first- and second-down efficiency was really good, so we were able to stay on the field and spread the ball around a little bit.”
In a season where so many games have been lost off the foot of an opposing kicker, St. Brown was relieved to realize that the timing of his touchdown meant the game was over. No chance for the Vikings to make a throw and kick; no chance for bad officiating to put a win in jeopardy; heck, the Lions didn’t “even have to kick the PAT.”
“It was nice to finally get a win like that,” St. Brown said.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.