llen Park — From October 2011 through November 2015, running back Tim Hightower didn't play in an NFL game.
In his fifth game during this year's comeback tour, Hightower had 28 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown, helping the Saints beat the Buccaneers last week.
And even though the Lions are focused on stopping Hightower in New Orleans Monday night (8:30 p.m., ESPN), their coaches can't help but be impressed with how he's returned to the NFL.
"I really appreciate it because it's not easy," coach Jim Caldwell said. "It's difficult, and to come in and perform the way he's performed is quite remarkable actually. Because usually when you have that much time off, your skills diminish a little bit and you're not nearly as effective."
But, Hightower was plenty effective last Sunday after replacing Mark Ingram, who's on injured reserve, as the primary tailback. Outside of his 11-carry, 46-yard performance in a blowout loss in Week 10, Hightower had just one carry in his other three games with the Saints this year before becoming the bell cow last Sunday.
A fifth-round pick in 2008, Hightower had three solid seasons with the Cardinals. After a trade, he had a brief stint with Washington in 2011 before suffering a season-ending knee injury, tearing an anterior cruciate ligament that October. Washington re-signed him in 2012, but he didn't make the team. Then, in 2013, doctors discovered an infection in his knee, and he didn't receive another NFL opportunity until the Saints signed him last January.
Lions defensive coordinator Teryl was an assistant with the Cardinals for Hightower's first two seasons and remembers him as someone who could run hard, block well and be a receiver out of the backfield — 63 receptions in 2009. Now, Hightower can claim to be someone who defied the odds in the NFL.
"I think it's awesome because it normally doesn't happen in this league," Austin said. "If you're out more than a year or so, it's usually time to hang them up, but he kept to it. It's a tribute to his mental toughness and his willingness and his will power, so I think it speaks volumes of him."