Kevin Smith took his final handoff, cut into traffic, lost two defenders and scampered into the end zone for a touchdown, the 48th point of the Detroit offense, and the major point of the whole afternoon.
If Kevin can, the Lions can, too.
Come back, that is.
Smith, until a few weeks ago, had been sitting on the couch. And the Lions played half of Sunday afternoon as if they were sleeping on it.
This would be the third time they had fallen behind by 17 or more points this season only to rally to win. You can look at that as half-full, half-empty or half-nuts. Or you can spend the first 30 minutes of every Detroit game raking leaves.
But comebacks are a combination of will, skill and belief. And just as the Lions shucked off a 24-7 deficit to boldly go on a 42-11 run, so, too, did Smith, recently unemployed, pull on the pads, yank down the helmet and get back in the groove. Coach Jim Schwartz called Smith “a great story,” maybe the best in the NFL.
He’s not wrong.
“What was your routine a few weeks ago, before the Lions called?” Smith, 24, was asked after his three-touchdown performance in a 49-35 victory at Ford Field.
“Wake up at 7 o’clock in the morning, train until 12, go home and play with my son,” he said. “Wake up at 7 o’clock in the morning, train until 12, go home and play with my son…”
Get the picture?
Just waiting for the call
Smith was excellent by any standard Sunday. But considering he was out of football earlier this month, and before last week’s game he hadn’t played in a year, well, he was no less than astonishing.
Smith had a career-high 140 yards rushing, another 61 receiving and three scores. That used to be a season for a Lions running back.
He moved with confidence and authority, juking, cutting, accelerating, barreling through traffic. When someone asked quarterback Matthew Stafford how much Smith helped the offense, Stafford blew a mouthful of air through rumbling lips.
“Unbelievably,” he said.
Smith showed promise in his first stint with the Lions, but a rash of injuries took its toll. And surely it hurt his feelings when they Lions chose not to resign him after last season. But he refused to rub Sunday in anyone’s face.
“I had no chip,” he said. “I’m in my fourth year in the business. I’ve learned if you’re available and you’ve got talent, you’ll play.”
Smith had been training at sports facility in Aventura, Fla. He could have been called by any team. But with the Lions’ running game in disarray, they had extra reason to dial Smith’s number. They drafted him. They knew him. They knew what he could do if healthy.
“He was making them miss,” Stafford observed. “I think he’s fresh…. He’s obviously in great shape.”
And partly thanks to that, the Lions, with six games left in the regular season, are in decent shape as well at 7-3.
Better starts needed right away
Yes, there are cautionary winds blowing. Detroit did not need to be so dramatic Sunday. This is a Carolina team that has won two games all year. Yet the Lions fell way behind by blowing almost every category. Threw an interception. Coughed up a fumble. Allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown. Got called for penalties that led to scores.
It was a clinic in how to lose to an inferior opponent, and for a while it seemed as if the Lions would finish with a gold star. But Stafford kept pitching it, unruffled by interceptions (“a shooter’s mentality” he would call it) and the Lions crawled back in. All told, Stafford would find nine different receivers for five touchdowns, and Smith’s 19-yard final scamper was the cushion Detroit needed. The defense finally stopped horse-collaring Panthers and made big interceptions, and the once-booing crowd was left cheering.
But Thursday is Green Bay, and then comes New Orleans, and it’s safe to say Detroit won’t be overcoming 17-point deficits against those guys. The Lions need to tighten up kick coverage and be better against the big run.
But Smith was a big run Sunday, a spare part desperately needed. He called it “a blessing” that Detroit offered him a job. And remember, this is a guy who was here for the 0-16 season. Which only proves that things can change. A player. A team. And – thankfully, Sunday – the score.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).