Four downs: Ihedigbo contributes to Lions win in return
James Ihedigbo chuckled at the idea that it felt good to be back on the field.
"Oh, man. Who you telling?" he said.
The Lions overcame the loss of Ihedigbo the first three games, but the strong safety showed why the team targeted him this offseason, finishing Sunday's 24-17 win over the Jets with five tackles and a huge sack-fumble in the fourth quarter that defensive end Darryl Tapp recovered.
"I've been biting at the bit to get out there, and to be able to get out there and play and have an impact. It's a solid day's work," Ihedigbo said.
Ihedigbo suffered a nerve injury in his neck in the Lions' second exhibition game and practiced fully for the first time in the week leading up to this game against the Jets, the team with which he spent his first three seasons.
After forcing the fumble by quarterback Geno Smith, Ihedigbo did his "Grave Digger" dance near midfield, adding insult to injury for the crowd at MetLife Stadium.
"It was great to have Dig back," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "I think you saw that he was active and certainly the sack-fumble was key."
The presence of Ihedigbo gave the Lions freedom to be more creative with the defense. On the first defensive series, the Lions moved free safety Glover Quin to nickel and brought Isa Abdul-Quddus in at safety.
Abdul-Quddus proved worthy of playing time during his start for Ihedigbo the past three games.
Danny Gorrer also played some nickel with Ihedigbo and Quin at safety, but Ihedigbo's presence just gave the Lions one more healthy DB in a group that's had players going down regularly since the start of the season.
"One's a big nickel package, particularly versus a heavy-run team," Caldwell said, explaining why the Lions used two different nickels. "It gives you the ability to not only play the pass, but also give you a little more of a thump in terms of the run game."
A quarter of the way through the season, the secondary has far exceeded expectations, in large part thanks to the rapid development of second-year cornerback Darius Slay.
On Sunday, Slay caught his first career interception.
After the game, Rashean Mathis reminded reporters that veterans consider young players to be rookies until the fourth game of their second season.
"I guess he had to get over the rookie hump to get his hands on the ball," Mathis said.
Slay was elated, but thought he could've turned a 40-yard return into a 74-yard touchdown. Still he made sure to save the ball.
"I feel it in my hands right now," he said. "It's invisible, but it's still there. I'm still cradling it right now, and I still see myself supposed to be in the end zone."
The Lions field-goal problems aren't necessarily cured, but Alex Henery had a solid start to his Lions career.
After kicking for the Eagles the past three years, Henery was on the street at the start of the season until the Lions signed him to replace struggling rookie Nate Freese. Less than 10 minutes into the first quarter, Henery did something Freese couldn't do the first three weeks — make a field goal longer than 30 yards.
Henery hit a 51-yarder to make it a 3-3 game with 5:04 left in the first quarter. The kick didn't decide the game, but a miss would've given the Jets great field position and could've had a big impact.
Henery later missed from 52 yards, wide right, but the Lions will take 50 percent from 50-plus yards after Freese started 3-for-7.