Detroit — It wasn’t a great season, but the lasting memory the Detroit Lions will leave fans with heading into the offseason was a team willing to pull out all the stops to get one final win.
That attitude was embodied by two, complicated trick plays that were flawlessly executed, resulting in a pair of long touchdowns in the team’s 37-30 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
The first, which netted the Lions their first touchdown of the day, was built on foundation of stuff they’d put on film dating back to last month, primarily built around rookie receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Starting in a December game against Atlanta, the Lions had used St. Brown to run the ball from a tight end alignment, swooping in from off tackle and taking it up the gut behind a pulling lineman. And that’s exactly what the Packers expected was happening when quarterback Jared Goff put the ball in the receiver’s hands.
Instead, St. Brown pitched the ball to Tom Kennedy, coming from the opposite direction behind the line of scrimmage. The little used receiver then fired a dart downfield to a wide open Kalif Raymond, who went uncovered coming out of the backfield.
Lions coach Dan Campbell acknowledged Kennedy wasn’t the original receiver who was supposed to throw the pass, but the initial player the team auditioned on the practice field struggled with the assignment, throwing “a duck.”
While no one wanted to toss that player under the bus, Kennedy had some fun with it after the game.
“I think you can kind of figure it out,” he said. “If Saint’s getting the handoff and pitching it to me, Kalif’s running the route, KhaDarel Hodge is a lefty, so we couldn’t run it with him, you can kind of — I won’t name any names, but I’ll break it down for you.”
As for the second play, which the Lions ran in the third quarter after recovering a fumble, Goff handed the ball to running back Jamaal Williams, who flipped it to St. Brown running a reverse. But instead of continuing on the path, St. Brown kicked it back to Goff, almost like a flea flicker with an extra step. The misdirection was enough to allow tight end Brock Wright to come free down the sideline for a 38-yard touchdown catch.
Credit for the implementation of that play goes to backup quarterback David Blough, according to Kennedy. The receiver said Blough pushed for the design’s inclusion in the game plan after having run it successfully multiple times while playing for Purdue.
Coincidentally, it was also Blough who also suggested Kennedy be the one to throw the pass on the first trick play.
“It’s what you dream of,” Kennedy said. “Like, every step up that you take, you kind of want more. That’s just human nature. Like ‘oh, man, I’d love to get to the NFL.’ All right, well, you get there and then it’s like, playing a tiny bit, ‘I want to contribute.’ I think obviously this is the biggest play that I’ve made, so it’s just awesome to contribute and help the team win, honestly. So I’m happy about that.”
It was anything but an ideal season for Goff, who struggled on the field the first half of the season, and battled multiple injuries, while contracting both the flu and COVID after the team’s Week 8 bye.
But Goff couldn’t have been much better down the stretch, leading the team to wins in three of his final four starts, while posting a passer rating above 100 three of the final five games, throwing for 1,136 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions during that stretch.
“He’s played really well, he really has,” Campbell said. “I think that’s what has been really good to see. Look, there’s a number of reasons why we weren’t moving the football and things weren’t happening (early in the season) and it’s really all encompassing. And he took a lot of flak for it, I’ll be honest with you. That wasn’t totally on him, it wasn’t. But what I respect about him is the fact that he hung in there and he was resilient, but yet accountable to his own performance.”
Goff, a two-time Pro Bowler who has played in the Super Bowl, can easily admit how difficult this season has been, but also takes some solace in the manner he crossed the finish line.
“Yeah, it’s been obviously a rocky year, hard, not fun in certain instances,” Goff said. “It’s a tale of two seasons kind of, the first half and the second half. Granted, the second half record still isn’t tremendous, but the way we played was better. The way we approached each day in practice was a lot better. Just the way that our mentality was, was so much better and so much improved.
“I think for me personally, just navigating that and being the guy that has do — that’s my job is to bear the brunt of it sometimes,” Goff continued. “You don’t shy away from it, you own it and you get better and you improve. Proud of the way I handled, it but proud of the way all of our guys handled it, really.”
Campbell mum on Lynn
A morning report from the NFL Network said the Lions will be parting ways with offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn following the season, but Campbell pushed off commenting on the pending departure immediately after the game against the Packers.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t even want to get into that because I haven’t even talked to Anthony and so I don’t even want to talk about that,” Campbell said. “That will come up tomorrow.”
Campbell will be conducting a season wrap-up press conference Monday afternoon.
Lynn, who served as the head coach of the Chargers the past four seasons, joined the Lions staff in late January. The former running back’s emphasis on the ground game always seemed like a good philosophical match with Campbell.
But after the Lions went winless through eight games, and the offense was struggling, Campbell took over play calling from his coordinator during the bye week. And while Lynn accepted the demotion, he also expressed disappointment with the change in his role.
After going 3-5-1 after the switch, Goff was asked if he wanted Campbell to remain the primary play-caller next season.
“That’s fully his decision,” Goff said. “We’ll see where it goes. We’ll see. But I don’t have an answer for that.”