As some of us predicted, the Detroit Lions emptied the playbook in their season finale win over the Green Bay Packers, which led to an entertaining game to close out the season. Detroit ran a total of three trick plays, two of which went for touchdowns en route to a 37-30 victory over their NFC North nemesis.
The first trick play was perhaps the most impressive, as reserve receiver Tom Kennedy—who barely got any playing time this year—uncorked a 75-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Kalif Raymond on a reverse pass.
Head coach Dan Campbell revealed that the play was initially designed with another wide receiver in mind, but that wideout-turned-passer threw a duck in practice.
“The first time we did it—I’m not even going to tell you who was throwing—but we was like, ‘Alright, here we go,’ and we got verification the guy can throw,” Campbell said. “And we went out there and it was a duck. It was just—it went about 10 yards. So it was like, ‘Alright, no. Who’s next?’”
Kennedy would later reveal, via process of elimination, that the wide receiver was likely Josh Reynolds.
So Kennedy, the unlikely hero, stepped in and dropped a perfect pass nearly 30 yards downfield.
But the real key to the play was Amon-Ra St. Brown, who took the initial handoff after a fake pitch to Kalif Raymond. Against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16, the Lions ran a play that looked nearly identical, except St. Brown kept the ball for successful rushes of 12 and seven yards.
“All that was off of Saint carrying the football like we have,” head coach Dan Campbell said after the game. “We’ve had a couple of those big plays where he’s—we’ve given it to him, had a couple of pullers, he’s usually normally following Big V (Halapoulivaati Vaitai) and Penei (Sewell). So it was really off of that, and we gave them the same formation, the same set, personnel, everything to where, if you assume they’re doing their homework and if they are, there’s really two things you’re going to get out of it, and so we used that to our advantage and it worked out great.”
The design and setup were so successful that St. Brown, himself, said he heard Packers players from the sideline getting baited by the play before the ball was even snapped.
“Our coaches, they designed I think (a) perfect play,” St. Brown said. “Like you said, against Atlanta, we ran that play where I come across, get that handoff twice. Actually, before that play that Tom Kennedy threw, I’m lined up and all I hear from the sideline is, ‘14 is getting the ball coming across. 14 is getting the ball,’ and I’m just smiling, because I already know what’s about to happen.’”
That play speaks to the creativity we saw from the Lions’ offense in the second half of the season, and the optimism surrounding the offense going forward, even with reports that offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn is not expected to stay with the team in 2022. The emerging star seems to be tight ends coach Ben Johnson, who drew more praise from quarterback Jared Goff after the season finale, along with Campbell, who took over play-calling duties after the bye.
“I thought Ben Johnson, some of the stuff that he was able to put in place and some of the stuff that he was able to coach up was really good,” Goff said of the second-half improvement. “And then Dan, obviously, calling the plays and having his influence on it, as well, was helpful.”
Campbell would not comment on what Lynn’s future with the team is, nor his plans for calling plays next season. But if the Lions can continue to develop well-disguised plays like this going forward, there may not be many changes to make this offseason.