Four Downs: Lions' Fuller shows game-changing speed
It took three games, but wide receiver Corey Fuller showed why he's been activated for games ahead of Ryan Broyles.
In Fuller, the Lions have a speedy receiver who can flip the field on just one play, which is exactly what he did at the end of the second quarter in Sunday's 19-7 win over the Green Bay Packers.
With 17 seconds left in the first half, Matthew Stafford hit Fuller for a 52-yard completion down the left sideline. The play gave the Lions, who were leading 12-7, a chance for one more shot at the end zone and then a 41-yard field goal, which Nate Freese missed.
"He's running against (cornerback) Sam Shields out there, and Shields is as fast as they come in this league," Stafford said. "And Corey can really go."
The catch was the first of Fuller's career after he spent his rookie season on the practice squad, but it was the second time he was targeted. In the first quarter, a high pass went off Fuller's hands and right to Packers rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who made the interception.
"To come back and make a play in the same half, a big clutch play on a ball way down the field, it was great to see," Stafford said.
Fuller also blocked Shields effectively on Reggie Bush's 26-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay are the Lions' oddest couple. The 34-year-old Mathis is quiet, well-spoken and always focused on the team.
"He's a real settling force for those guys out there," coach Jim Caldwell said of Mathis.
The 23-year-old Slay wears a backpack from the Nickelodeon show "Rocket Power" and has raved about his performances even in losses.
Despite their differences, it's working for the Lions, so far, and their ability to lock down outside receivers was on display Sunday.
For the Packers, Jordy Nelson had just five catches for 59 yards, Randall Cobb had three catches for 29 yards and Davante Adams and Jarrett Boykin combined for three catches for 22 yards.
"Our thing was to stop Jordy," Slay said. "We did that and made the other people beat us."
The Lions slowed the "other people" as the Packers had just 223 total yards.
With his leadership, Mathis is "invaluable" as Caldwell said Sunday, but if Slay continues to improve, the Lions secondary will keep playing above its expectations.
The victory was the most important stat to Stafford, but when the Lions break down the tape this week, they'll see that the quarterback still has plenty of work to do for this team to reach its potential.
On Stafford's first interception, a high pass in which blame should be shared between he and Fuller, he had Joique Bell open in the flat, which would've gained the Lions enough yards for a field-goal attempt.
On the second, he tried to hit Calvin Johnson in one-on-one coverage, but Stafford hung the ball, leading to an interception by cornerback Davon House.
"Worst case scenario is what happened," Stafford said.
And Stafford is right. The first interception was a poor pass and a poor decision, but the second was a fine decision. The play was effectively a punt with the Lions near midfield, and House landing at the 1 instead of the end zone led to a Lions safety a play later.
Stafford also lost a fumble in the red zone on a good strip-sack by Packers linebacker Julius Peppers, but the Lions won't be able to get away with three turnovers in most games, no matter how they happen.
"Obviously, you don't want to turn the ball over," he said. "We did that too many times tonight."
While kicker Nate Freese has been giving the Lions special teams a bad name, punter Sam Martin is doing his job just fine.
On Sunday, Martin had two punts and averaged 52 yards gross and 40.5 yards net. Both numbers should keep him in the top 12 among NFL punters in those categories.
Martin also has kicked off extremely well for the Lions thus far. Entering the game, he had touchbacks on 10 of 13 kickoffs.
On Sunday, DuJuan Harris returned two of his four kickoffs despite them being six yards deep in the end zone. The first gave the Packers the ball at the 19. The second gave the Packers the ball at the 10, thanks in part to a holding penalty.