The Detroit Lions open practice every Friday with a light passing drill, where receivers, running backs, tight ends and most offensive linemen run simple routes down the sideline.
Everyone who has seen the drill live has marveled at Penei Sewell’s athleticism and ability to catch a pass and contort his body at 335 pounds, and those who haven’t got a look at it Sunday when the Lions called their right tackle’s number on a key third-and-7 late in their 34-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Leading by eight points with two minutes to play, the Lions split Sewell wide left of the formation as a tackle-eligible blocker. Sewell motioned to his right, and after the snap faked a full-speed block on Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter as he leaked into the right flat.
Jared Goff play-actioned a handoff to Jamaal Williams, then lofted a throw towards Sewell, who pivoted to make the catch before diving for a 9-yard gain and a first down.
“It was a great call,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “Look, we know what kind of athlete he is, he’s a phenomenal athlete. I mean, we talk about — who knows what kind of tackle he’s going to be, I think a pretty dang good one, he already is. But he could be a Hall of Fame tight end in my opinion, too, if he wanted to lose a little bit of weight. But he is, he’s got real good hands. He’s got real good feet, we felt like he was going to be wide open, which he was. And we told him stay in bounds and he did.”
Sewell was mobbed by teammates after his catch and gave a first down signal in celebration. He said he “wanted to be regular with (his emotions), but at the same time it’s not, so I’m a little excited.”
“I don’t think they were ready for that one. I was pretty wide open,” Sewell said. “The corner went with the wide receiver. Obviously, he didn’t expect me to go out.”
Even some of Sewell’s Lions teammates said they did not expect to see his number get called at crucial point in the game. The Lions called running plays on their next three offensive snaps, and Michael Badgley kicked the game-clinching 48-yard field goal with 17 seconds to play.
“Coach Dan got big balls,” Lions safety DeShon Elliott said. “That’s some big balls. I did not expect Penei to get the ball. I thought he was about to go over there to like block for like a run, for like a sweep that way. When he caught the ball athletically, too, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, Penei. You’re like that, bro. You’re like that.'”
Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said Dalvin Cook’s fumble on the goal line with a minute left in the first half came on what was supposed to be a halfback pass.
“We had some interior penetration on the play and Dalvin was actually going to attempt to throw that football to Johnny Mundt and he was open in the back,” O’Connell said. “We just wanted to make sure, No. 1, there was no penetration there and ultimately trying to be aggressive in that moment. Goal line defense (was) in there, not a lot runs from the 3-yard line and we had to play set up, just didn’t execute and the ball went the other way.”
O’Connell called the turnover “a critical, critical error.”
The Vikings trailed 14-7 at the time and had a chance to tie the game and gain momentum heading into a second half when they were due to start with the ball.
“Buggs went out there and made a play when we needed it,” Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said. “It was huge.”