Philadelphia — The Detroit Lions never doubted Jamal Agnew. The continued confidence in the former All-Pro return man, despite his recent struggles, was rewarded with the team's first kickoff return for a touchdown in more than six years in Sunday's 27-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I stay confident through the tough times and the good times," Agnew said. "You can't ride the roller coaster of emotions is what Matty P (coach Matt Patricia) always says."
Through two weeks, Agnew had not only struggled to gain much yardage on either kickoffs or punts, he was also battling ball security issues. He muffed a punt in the season-opener in Arizona, which the Cardinals recovered, and had another fumble last week, although the officials missed that one.
That led to Agnew getting the quick hook last week and raised questions about his long-term status as Detroit's return man. But throughout the week, Patricia continued to treat the benching like a temporary reset, not a permanent switch.
So when Detroit's return unit took the field after Philadelphia scored on its opening possession, it was Agnew back deep. He took the kick at the goal line, sliced left behind a block from running back J.D. McKissic and it was off to the races, ending with a 100-yard score.
"I told you guys after the game last week, he will just go back to work," Patricia said. "He was in and was grinding all throughout the week. When players do that, and they grind and they work and they practice, your confidence is as high as ever and you trust them.
"I just had a feeling that something good was going to happen with everything he did and what he does and his approach. I give him all the credit in the world for putting himself back out there in that situation. Man, that was a nice play, right?"
After the game, Agnew expressed gratitude for the continued faith the coaching staff and teammates put in him. Quarterback Matthew Stafford had even pulled him aside after last week's game to offer words of encouragement.
"Obviously, he had a tough one last week and I tried to talk to him after the game last week and just build him up, let him know we were going to need him," Stafford said. "I was fired up for him. It was a great return and he had another really good punt return that we kind of stumbled on as an offense after that, but he got us across the 50 another time, so I was proud of him and happy for him."
Agnew didn't start the game against the Eagles as the Lions' punt returner. Danny Amendola handled the first few, but it was Agnew out there early in the fourth quarter, when the Eagles were down 10 and punting from deep in their own territory.
The punt was a booming shot that carried 57 yards, giving Agnew time to find a lane. And he nearly broke free on that one, too, before he was taken down by punter Cameron Johnston, a former Australian rules football player.
"Oh man, I let the punter tackle me," Agnew said. "But that was a really good tackle by him. Coming into the week, we knew he liked to cover. I think he's a rugby player or something, so he's a tough dude. He had a couple words for me after the tackle."
Agnew's kickoff return touchdown was the Lions' first since Jeremy Ross brought one back 98 yards in 2013 against the Eagles, also in Philadelphia.
With the 100-yard return, Agnew is now averaging 37 yards on kickoffs. The 24-yard punt return only managed to raise his average there to 3.5 yards on eight tries.