Lions' showdown with Seattle 'just another game' for ex-Seahawks

By Matt Schoch
Special to The Detroit News

Allen Park — Sunday’s game will take DeShawn Shead back to the Palmdale/Highland days.

The Antelope Valley high school rivalry game north of Los Angeles was where he played most of his middle school teammates who attended Palmdale while he went to Highland.

Tight end Luke Willson spent his first five NFL seasons with the Seattle Seahawks before signing with the Lions in the offseason.

“That was our rivals, so it was always a battle but it was fun just to see a lot of the people I grew up with, a lot of the people I played Pop Warner with,” Shead said of matching up against players like Davon House, now a cornerback with Green Bay. 

“It was a battle."

Shead was a cornerback with Seattle for the first six seasons of his NFL career, so he’ll be facing a former team Sunday for the first time when the Seahawks visit Ford Field.

He said the pleasantries will have to wait until after the final buzzer.

“It’ll be good to see a lot of people; I know a lot of people there, but it’s just another game for me,” Shead said. “It’s just another game. Just another championship opportunity.”

Shead is among a trio of Lions, joining tight end Luke Willson and wide receiver Golden Tate, who won a Super Bowl with Seattle to cap the 2013 season.

Willson and Shead join a group of Lions players brought in this offseason from winning backgrounds around the league, including defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, linebackers Eric Lee and Marquis Flowers from New England; defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, who won a ring in Denver; tight end Levine Toilolo, who played in five Atlanta playoff games over the last two seasons, including the Super Bowl; and running back LeGerrette Blount, who won the last two Super Bowls with New England and Philadelphia.

Willson was a rookie and Tate was playing in his final game with Seattle in the 43-8 romp of Peyton Manning and Denver on Groundhog Day 2014. Both had 17 yards receiving in the game. Shead was a second-year pro who played on special teams that night at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

Shead was part of an exodus of defensive mainstays that left Seattle this offseason, including cornerback Richard Sherman, and defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, who started his career in Detroit. Safety Earl Thomas is out for the season with a broken leg.

While the Legion of Boom has largely left the room, coach Pete Carroll has holdovers such as quarterback Russell Wilson, linebacker Bobby Wagner and wide receiver Doug Baldwin manning the transition.

The Lions and Seahawks are both 3-3 and Sunday’s game could factor heavily into the playoff picture come December, as the Lions are trying to get back to the playoffs for the first time since Seattle dispatched them 26-6 in the wild-card round to close the 2016 season.

Willson caught one pass and Shead defended three passes in that game, as Tate had a crucial drop as the Lions offense stalled.

The next week, Seattle lost 36-20 to Atlanta and also haven’t returned to the playoffs since.

Willson, who is from Windsor, scored a career-high four touchdowns last season but signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with Detroit in the offseason.

“I prepare for them all week like I would prepare for anybody else,” Willson said. “Then after the game, I’ll be able to speak to my old buddies, share a few laughs, and then on to the next one. But it’s not going to be too crazy for me.”

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Willson matched his season high with two catches on Sunday against Miami but has been a big part of the Lions energized rushing offense, even lining up alongside Nick Bellore in two-fullback diamond formations, such as the one that sprung running back Kerryon Johnson for 24 yards on Detroit’s first offensive play.

“Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to go out there and do it, try to help out,” Willson said.

Tate has jabbed his former team in the media, with his murky exit coming up over the years. In September, he reacted on Twitter to a Sports Illustrated report about Seattle’s ugly divorce from mainstays like Sherman and Bennett with a wide-eyed emoji. The wide receiver also paid tribute on social media to Seattle owner Paul Allen, who died last week.

“He’s a tremendous receiver, everybody in the locker room loves him, so the list goes on and on when you talk about him,” said Willson, reunited with Tate this season.

Shead played a season-high 45 snaps in a win this month against Green Bay, but was relegated to five snaps in the 32-21 win against the Dolphins, a solid all-around game for the Lions.

“It certainly looks like we’re moving in the right direction, getting better every week,” Willson said. “And we’ve got to keep that going because I haven’t seen too much of them yet, but I know Seattle is going to be coming here with a pretty stout defense.”

Added Shead: “We’re just finding our groove on how to be consistent, how to prepare and how to repeat success. Everybody has bought in, so I think that’s a big factor in winning games.

“And it shows on Sunday.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.