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Rookie RB Kerryon Johnson shines in Lions' preseason opener

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson (33) carries as Oakland Raiders linebacker Jason Cabinda defends during the second half.

Oakland, Calif. — Preseason openers are rarely pretty and the Detroit Lions’ 16-10 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Friday was no exception.

Look no further than the game's 17 penalties. 

But in a week big-name rookies dominated NFL headlines, Lions running back Kerryon Johnson managed to join the party with a promising showing in his professional debut.

"It felt awesome," Johnson said. It was weird at first, getting out there, but that time is here. You know, you go through the draft, you go through the summer wishing for this moment and then it comes up on you quick and now it's time to go perform."

Playing stretches throughout the night, the second-round pick out of Auburn flashed the vision and burst the Lions desperately need at the position, leading the team with 67 yards from scrimmage. And that’s not even counting the 57-yard run he had wiped out by a holding call in the third quarter.

"I was thinking, 'Dang, I'm tired.'" Johnson said. "But it happens. It's the first game for everybody. It could have easily been me getting the flag on somebody else's play." 

BOX SCORE: Raiders 16, Lions 10

On Detroit’s next possession, which ended in a field goal, Johnson shouldered the load for the offense, catching passes of 19 and 12 yards to go with a 13-yard run up the middle.

Johnson built upon a successful night by the veterans ahead of him on the depth chart. Starter LeGarrette Blount churned out 21 yards on five carries and Ameer Abdullah added 16 on four attempts, including a 1-yard touchdown behind a massive block by first-round pick Frank Ragnow.

"We're trying to have a balanced offense," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "I still think there were certainly some plays we left out there and we have to do better on. That will be the focus on what we're trying to improve." 

The Lions fell behind early to the Raiders when backup quarterback Connor Cook found wide receiver Johnny Holton wide open for a 41-yard catch-and-run, setting up a 21-yard Eddie Pinero field goal.

The Raiders extended the advantage to 10-0 early in the second quarter when Cook capped a 10-play, 73-yard drive with a 7-yard strike to Ryan Switzer in the back of the end zone after Lions safety Rolan Milligan fell down in coverage.

Cook took a seat after completing 11 of 19 for a game-high 141 yards and the touchdown.

"I thought he did pretty good," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "He's had an excellent training camp. He's not turned the ball over, he's showing pretty good command, there are a couple decisions that I just can't wait to talk to him about and get his perspective, but he moved the team, put points on the board." 

Abdullah’s score cut the deficit to seven, before Pinero knocked home a 48-yard field goal to end the first half, making it, 13-7.

Ryan Santoso got the Lions back within three with a 24-yard field goal to open the fourth quarter. A 45-yarder from Pinero with 2:17 remaining capped the scoring. 

Despite a pair of joint practices with the Raiders this week, the Lions played the majority of their starters. Only quarterback Matthew Stafford, guard T.J. Lang and defensive end Ziggy Ansah were held out, with others, including Blount and several defenders, playing into the second quarter.

Matt Cassel started at quarterback for the Lions, finishing 10-for-17 for 81 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. He was relieved by Rudock late in the second quarter and last year's backup didn't fare much better, tallying 86 yards on 12-for-19 passing. 

Cassel came back out for the final series, but lost a fumble when linebacker James Cowser hit his arm and Raiders defensive lineman Frostee Rucker recovered the loose ball.

"I just thought it was a good opportunity to have (Cassel and Rudock) go out and compete in a great environment," Patricia said about the decision to hold Stafford out. 

The Lions appeared to escape any major injuries, but wide receiver Golden Tate was immediately removed after taking a hit to his right knee.