Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett breaks down the Detroit Lions’ 28-25 loss to the Buffalo Bills and looks at players and coaches who helped and hurt their stock Thursday at Ford Field.
OLB James Houston: A sixth-round pick out of Jackson State, Houston was a standout in his NFL debut Thursday. The rookie recovered a fumble on special teams and had two sacks on defense as a designated pass rusher, including one at the end of the first half to force a Bills field goal. The Lions elevated Houston from the practice squad for Thursday’s game, but might have to promote him to the 53-man roster to keep him around.
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown: St. Brown had another huge receiving day for the Lions, catching nine passes for 122 yards and a score. More than his production, though, it’s his production in big spots that the Lions can’t do without. Brown converted a third-and-8 and third-and-9 in the first quarter, and ran for a first down on a fourth-and-1 jet sweep late in the game. He’s the Lions’ most valuable player 11 games into the season.
CB Mike Hughes: Hughes didn’t have eye-popping numbers Thursday with five tackles and one pass defensed, and he gave Stefon Diggs too much cushion on his fourth quarter touchdown. But on a day the Lions were without their top cornerback, Hughes led a strong effort by the secondary against a dangerous Buffalo passing game. After struggling some in the slot earlier this season, he’s found a home back on the outside.
LIONS GRADES VS. BILLS:A lot to like, but coaches docked for clock management
OGs Kayode Awosika and Dan Skipper: Dan Campbell said his guards battled Thursday, which is like asking what your blind date looks like and having the person who set you up talk about your date’s personality. Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver (six tackles, one sack, one forced fumble) spent much of the game in the Lions backfield, and his success came at Awosika and Skipper’s expense. He knocked Awosika back for a tackle on the Lions’ first play of the third quarter then drove Skipper into Goff’s lap two plays later for a safety. Oliver had another pressure on Jared Goff when Skipper was late getting out of his stance, and he beat Skipper for another tackle-for-loss in the red zone. The Lions need Jonah Jackson and Evan Brown back for the stretch run dearly.
DE Austin Bryant: Bryant did some good things as a designated pass rusher Thursday, with two quarterback hits in limited snaps. But he also committed a costly personal foul when he flung Josh Allen to the ground on a second-and-10 incompletion on the Buffalo’s game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. Bryant took accountability for his penalty after the game, but with Houston’s emergence and Charles Harris making his way back from a groin injury, he could see his already-sparse playing time get cut.