Detroit — Every Monday morning, undrafted rookie cornerback Mike Ford went to work on the Lions’ practice squad and told himself, “You’re going to get promoted this week.”
After Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky put up 355 yards and three touchdowns on Detroit’s secondary in Week 10, he was finally right.
Ford, 23, was called up to make his NFL debut and start at cornerback opposite of Darius Slay in the Lions’ 20-19 home win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
“It’s just a blessing to finally be able to say I’ve played in the NFL,” Ford said. “(The) preseason, yeah it’s the NFL, but once you get to these regular season games, you’re really playing.”
Ford made two tackles and served as a gunner on special teams. He said that being notified of his insertion to the starting lineup didn’t affect his preparation during the week.
“You never know what’s going to happen, you never know whose turn it is, who’s going to get the call,” Ford said. “Once I got to practice and I saw my role was bumped up, I just kept going and brought 100 percent like I do every day.”
The Southeast Missouri State alum made his biggest impact felt in punt coverage, when he prevented Sam Martin’s second-quarter punt from crossing into the end zone with an acrobatic effort that allowed Tavon Wilson to pin Carolina at the 2.
"One thing we had been coaching and preaching pretty much all year," Ford said, is that "we need some guys that are going to down the ball inside the 20 and inside the 10."
Ford said that when he got inside the 10-yard line and saw returner Damiere Byrd "relax his arms," he knew it was time to be that guy.
“The next thing I'm thinking is, 'Well, I'm inside the 10, so I better look back,” Ford said. "I turn around, look up, and the ball's hitting the ground."
"I know I can't put myself in the end zone and touch it, so I just smacked it and tried to roll and defend it."
On defense, Ford was lined up against rookie wideout DJ Moore, Carolina’s 2018 first-round pick.
“I saw that they had said they wanted to get (Moore) into a bigger role,” Ford said. “So it was kind of like, well OK, I come out here my first game, rookie on rookie, let me lick my chops and go to work.”
But for the most part, Ford had a tough time containing his rookie adversary.
Moore caught seven passes for 157 yards; he broke free for an 82-yard reception in the third quarter after Ford overcommitted to a route near the sideline and whiffed on the tackle before Slay eventually tracked him down at the 8-yard line.
Ford chalked up the error to being overly “anxious” to make a big play in his NFL debut.
“Your first game, you want to make every play, you want to play real fast,” Ford said. “You’re just trying to fly around. Once I finally settled myself down, after this game, I learned I can’t be that anxious.”
As the game went on, Ford said he leaned on his veteran teammates to calm his nerves.
"I got a lot of older guys in my corner and they were there to settle me down, just say, 'Take a breath,'" Ford said. "Once I finally settled myself down, after this game, I learned I can't be that anxious. It's football, at the end of the day."
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer