Detroit — How’s that for a response?
After exiting his first NFL game without making much noise, Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson on Sunday became the first rookie in team history to record three sacks in a single game.
And that’s only half the story. The performance made Hutchinson the youngest player in franchise history to record a multi-sack game and the fourth-youngest player in NFL history to produce a three-sack outing.
He’ll save the gloating for another day.
“You learn from stuff and you move on. I didn’t think I played bad in the first game, but definitely I had a lot more opportunity, I felt, in this game and I made the most of it,” Hutchinson said after the Lions defeated the Commanders, 36-27.
Hutchinson likely gave the greater Detroit area some chest pain in the second half when he was seen heading back to the locker room in the third quarter. He returned quickly, but he clearly was a bit less mobile than he was early in the game.
Fear not. He said afterward that he was dealing with “just some football stuff.”
But regardless of how Hutchinson felt about how this week’s performance compared to last week, Lions head coach Dan Campbell certainly thought that Hutchinson brought a different version of himself to Ford Field on Sunday. Campbell was slightly coy about Hutchinson’s outing, quickly turning the attention to the whole unit when asked about the rookie.
“He played better than he did last week. You know, he was much more detailed with how he rushed and much more disciplined — kind of really with everybody,” Campbell said. “And so, he did, he was better, but so was everybody around him, which helps him be better. That’s really the best way to answer it.
“I’m fired up. I am. I love it. Three sacks, I hope we get three more and he gives us three more next week. And I haven’t seen the tape, but just from what I saw out there and how everything was run and the stunts, I thought he did a great job. I did. I’m not down on him or something. I thought he did a great job, but I thought all those guys did, too. They all funneled into each other.”
Hutchinson led a defense that was absolutely menacing in the first half, but he certainly wasn’t alone. Charles Harris had a strip-sack of Carson Wentz in the end zone that resulted in a safety and had two quarterback hits, while DeShon Elliott hit the quarterback twice and Malcolm Rodriguez once.
Afterward, Hutchinson revealed that he might be playing for a little bit more than a single victory.
“I was just telling Dan, this game is dedicated to Hudson, who is a kid who just got diagnosed with leukemia. He’s a big Lions fan, he’s from my area. I sent him a video before the game. He was cheering me on,” Hutchinson said when asked about what the record-setting performance meant to him.
“I’m just happy to have good games to spread causes to kids like that.”
Thanks to the pass rush, a Detroit secondary that was missing starting cornerback Amani Oruwariye was able to weather the storm of Washington’s speedy wide receiving corps.
“Just playing Lions football, bro,” said Elliott, when asked what was working so well in the first half. “We were playing disciplined, doing our jobs. We preach about, ‘Just do our jobs. Be a piece of the puzzle, not the whole puzzle.’ And you do that, you got a chance to win.”
But after allowing just 40 passing yards in the first half, Wentz and Co. buckled down to amass 297 in the second half. What changed? A sense of urgency, for one. Washington entered the second half firing and matched its first-half total in passing yards with its first pass of the third quarter, a 40-yard reception by Jahan Dotson over Will Harris.
In the end, Detroit’s secondary stood just tall enough. As the Commanders drove the ball into Lions territory in a two-score game, Harris, who got burned by Eagles receiver A.J. Brown for a big play in limited action a week prior, got a great jump on a ball that was deflected twice for an interception. And Bobby Price, who subbed in when Jeff Okudah left with cramping for the second straight week, picked off Wentz late on a two-point conversion that held the Lions’ two-score lead.
“Man, I told y’all last week. He makes that play, and he (Harris) came back today and got an interception,” said Okudah, who added five tackles. “It’s something that we’re used to seeing Will doing. And to see him do it today out there in a big moment, I think that’s something that we just fed off.”
Okudah, by the way, said that finding a plan to make sure he doesn’t cramp up during games is a priority of his going forward.
“Not that I can recall,” Okudah said when asked if he’s ever cramped up the way he has of late. “But I know that I’m going to get up with the nutritionist and we’re going to have a good plan cooked up for next week.”
What can Brown do for you?
You probably are acutely aware by now that Detroit played Sunday’s game without a single starter on its interior offensive line. But what might not have been as appreciated is that Evan Brown, who was filling in for injured center Frank Ragnow, actually had a good deal of experience under his belt after starting 12 games in Ragnow’s place last season.
Sure, the Lions allowed Jared Goff to be sacked three times. But the offense still put up 36 points and gained 191 yards on the ground. Brown was pleased, all things considered. Surprised? Not so much.
“(I was) definitely more comfortable with…that experience under my belt,” Brown said. “I think that everybody is ready to step up whenever their number is called and wherever they’re needed. So you know, guys play multiple positions, you lose a guy here, they shuffle around, you throw the next guy in there, we go perform. That’s what we do.”
Brown gave credit to Lions offensive line coach Hank Fraley after the game, saying that Fraley “does a great job with the game plan, how it’s installed and communicating the message.”