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The Lions kept pace in the NFC North race with a hard-fought win over the winless Browns.

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Detroit — As bad-guy becomes good-guy tales go, Nevin Lawson’s flip-flop Sunday at Ford Field had about it a bit of Wild West romance.

Lawson twice got burned in the opening minutes against the Browns, a gang that loses NFL games on Sundays with the regularity some people go to church.

So there Lawson stood. On the sidelines. In his Lions jersey, number 24. Benched, essentially, after messing up on a pair of plays that helped the Browns to a 10-0 lead in a game the Lions finally won, 38-24.

“I had a rough first quarter, probably the worst first quarter of my career, period,” Lawson said after Sunday’s game, after he had slipped into a brown suede jacket and met the media for a debriefing in the Lions dressing room.

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Lawson’s first misdeed Sunday was allowing Sammie Coates to waltz down the left sideline with a 38-yard pass from DeShone Kizer, which helped the Browns to an instant field goal. On the Browns’ next set of downs, Lawson whiffed on a tackle against Kenny Britt that treated Cleveland to a touchdown and a 10-0 lead and treated Lawson to a parking space along the Lions bench.

He needed, as they say in various courtrooms, a second chance.

“I just knew I had to go out there and make a play,” Lawson said.

And that he did.

By the second quarter, Lawson, a fourth-round pick from Utah State who has been with Detroit since 2014, had been paroled from his sideline cell and was back at right corner.

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Kizer flipped a pass to tight end Seth DeValve who promptly donated a fumble that Lawson, who had been on the play, scooped and turned into a 44-yard TD return that put the Lions on top, 17-10.

Lawson broke down the sequence:

“At first I was going to try to go low and tackle his legs,” he said. “But I was like, man, I might as well try to strip this ball. So I just went for the ball and it hit the ground and I bounced on it.”

And then he remembered something. In a nanosecond.

“Oh, shoot, nobody touched me,” he said. “I’m still up. So I just ran to the end zone and it happened.”

“It” was six points that put the Lions on top and won back a Lions crowd (64,646 Sunday at Ford) that had wondered if it should perhaps seek a drug store for nausea pills.

Lawson acknowledged in Sunday’s first quarter he might also have needed a palliative. He was sick about the blown plays.

And then the doctor arrived: cornerbacks coach Tony Oden.

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“I’m blessed that I got encouraging coaches,” Lawson said. “I just remember him telling me after that first quarter, ‘Man, don’t worry about that. There’s a bunch of plays to be made out there.’”

And so he latched onto his own in-game mantra: “Man, keep fighting. The team needs you. Make a play.”

Lawson said this Sunday as he cut quite a portrait of sartorial class. It wasn’t only the brown suede jacket he wore, accompanied by black slacks.

It was that lengthy gold chain spilling from his neck and descending into a gold cross.

This was a man who looked as if spirituality is at the heart of what he does. And spirituality, of course, can be all about redemption.

Lawson, 26, seemed on board with thoughts there.

He remembered, after blowing the early tackle, safety Miles Killebrew giving him a pat and a pep-talk.

“I looked at Killebrew,” Lawson recalled, “and he said, ‘I ain’t even got to say nothing. I know you’re going to do your thing.’

“Like I’m just blessed to have encouraging teammates, you know what I’m saying?” Lawson asked.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to have short-term memories as corners and just keep playing.”

It is what Lawson did Sunday. More decidedly, it was what the Lions did against a Browns team that is missing, maybe by the kind of play Lawson made Sunday, ending its Sunday nightmares and winning a football game that Sunday belonged to Detroit.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Lynn_Henning

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