Detroit — Over 40,000 Detroit Lions fans poured into Ford Field to get a glimpse of their new-look football team in Friday night’s preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons.
And for those who wanted to know how the revamped receiver room would produce with the bright lights on, well, they got an answer — in the form of a lights-out performance from Tom Kennedy.
Kennedy, who has played 13 NFL games with the Lions since 2019 and has been somewhat of a darling in camp as of late, caught eight passes for 104 yards to lead the team in receiving in a 27-23 loss.
“It was just fun to be out there competing with somebody other than our defense,” Kennedy said. “Obviously it would have been a lot better if we won the game, but yeah, it was just a lot of fun to go out there and compete.”
Lions head coach Dan Campbell said he was “not surprised” by Kennedy’s performance.
“That’s Tom Kennedy. He’s just dependable. That’s all he is. He’s just dependable. He’s just very dependable. That’s all he is,” Campbell said.
Six of those completions came from the arm of third-string quarterback David Blough, who had a solid performance (18-for-28, 141 yards) in his own right before a costly fumble before the two-minute warning put Atlanta in dynamite position to grab the winning touchdown.
Both Blough and Kennedy signed with the Lions in 2019 after going undrafted. They’ve developed quite a bond in their handful of years together, Kennedy said.
“That’s my guy,” Kennedy said. “Ever since he got here, after the preseason our rookie year, he’s probably my best friend on the team and I think we have a really good connection. We trust each other a lot. I love all the quarterbacks, but I’m closest with him. When Tim’s in there and I’m in there with Tim, I love that, so I’m not picking favorites, but Blough and I have been together the longest.
“We do have a great connection. We just have a great relationship on and off the field.”
Ultimately, the Blough-to-Kennedy connection fell just a little bit too short for the Lions to pick up a victory. Blough’s Hail Mary attempt as time expired fell in the end zone, landing just a few feet from Kennedy.
Fun for Funchess
Besides Kennedy, you’d be hard-pressed to find any second- or third-string offensive player who had a better night than tight end Devin Funchess.
Funchess, a Farmington Hills Harrison and Michigan product, caught four passes for 19 yards and hauled in Detroit’s lone touchdown pass.
“Coach put me in great positions,” Funchess said. “I had fun out there; new positions, so I’m just enjoying the process. Everybody in my tight end room, they got me prepared for everything, as far as the run calls, the blocking and everything.”
On a second-and-goal play from the 1-yard-line with under a minute to go in the first half, backup quarterback Tim Boyle lobbed a throw to the back left corner of the end zone. Funchess got the outside edge on Atlanta cornerback and made a diving catch for the score.
“Tim just said, 13, coming to me, so I just made sure I had leverage on him, and he threw a catchable ball,” Funchess said.
Getting on the stat sheet was an important development for Funchess, a former wide receiver who signed with the team in June and is looking to reinvent himself as a football player. Funchess said after the game that he’s even taken up gymnastics, which has helped with his spatial awareness — and that seemed to pay off when he hurdled an Atlanta defender after gaining a first down later in the game.
Prior to Friday, he hadn’t made much noise since signing with the Lions in June. His last real NFL game came in 2019, when he played just one game for the Indianapolis Colts after breaking his collarbone. Funchess opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns and had his 2021 season cut short by a season-ending hamstring injury while playing with the Packers in preseason.
But despite that, he’s not sweating the competition. He’s enjoying the ride, along with all the other tight ends who aren’t guaranteed a roster spot.
“Everybody just — they treat me with the utmost respect and they teach me everything that I need to know,” Funchess said. “So, it’s competition, but they love me and they just teach me everything, and I’m so appreciative about that.”
It’s been almost a full year since Jeff Okudah has stepped onto the turf at Ford Field, where he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the team’s season opener.
As one could imagine, that’s not an easily forgettable set of circumstances. He returned to Ford Field Friday night filled with jitters.
“I think going in … I thought that practice would be the same as the game, but like, as the game got closer and closer, those first-game nerves started to come back in,” Okudah said. “So just getting out there, getting that first tackle, being able to settle back in, I think that just kind of like, leveled me out, and I’m excited for the next one.”
Okudah made three tackles and performed well in coverage during a limited amount of snaps, allowing just one completion — a 12-yard catch in the red zone by former Lion KhaDarel Hodge.
“All things considered, it was solid,” Okudah said. “For me, being a perfectionist, I hate that a receiver caught a ball on me, but I think it was something that I could definitely look at and build from it.”
Cornerback Will Harris briefly left the game with what appeared to be a hand injury but later returned. He finished the game with one tackle in what was an otherwise clean game injury-wise for Detroit.