Detroit – Sean Murphy-Bunting has been making big plays in the state of Michigan for years.
He put together an impressive resume at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley before eventually being named first-team All-Mid-American Conference as a junior at Central Michigan, foregoing his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft earlier this year.
On Sunday at Ford Field, Murphy-Bunting continued that trend — for the team that selected him 39th overall, the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Macomb Township native had a team-high nine tackles, and in the fourth quarter, jumped an out-route to Danny Amendola on a potential tying drive for Detroit, picking off Lions quarterback David Blough and returning the pass 70 yards to the house to ice the Bucs’ 38-17 victory.
“It was just a big deal for me,” Murphy-Bunting said of his return home. “Even when I walked into the stadium just for pre-game, it was just a wild moment for me.”
Amendola, to that point, had been the lone bright spot of a Lions offense, his quick routes to the sideline serving as layups for the rookie Blough, who struggled mightily in his third career start. The two-time Super Bowl winner finished with 102 yards on eight receptions. But Detroit (3-10-1) was ultimately done in by a pass that never made it to him.
“That entire game, he was running those quick out routes,” said Murphy-Bunting, 22.
“He got me on a few, and it’s like getting hit with the same jab, so you have to counter back on it. I kind of showed blitz, made it looked like it was a hot read, bailed out at the last second and slipped underneath.”
Despite rooting most for whatever team childhood hero Charles Woodson played for growing up, Murphy-Bunting estimated that he had probably attended about 20-30 Lions games with his dad.
To every degree, Murphy-Bunting’s return to Ford Field could not have gone better, the surreal feel of it all maximized by the faces surrounding him during his greatest professional football moment thus far.
“I had guys from Central Michigan come down,” Murphy-Bunting said, “family members from the area, I had people from my high school come, so it was like a big family reunion. It meant a lot to me to see them out there in pre-game and just kind of interact with them.”
And then there’s the fact that that it came at the expense of both the player he idolized in high school, and the college coach who gave him a chance.
“Darius Slay was like the big guy I always tried to watch,” Murphy-Bunting said. “Back in high school I messaged him a couple times on Twitter, he messaged me back. College, it was the same thing. I messaged him, he messaged me back. (I was) just asking him for workouts.
“Seeing him on the field today, playing with him today, it was just crazy. And now I have his jersey in my hand. It’s surreal, man.”
Murphy-Bunting added that prior to the game, he was also able to chat with Lions assistant John Bonamego, who coached Murphy-Bunting at Central Michigan.
“He was the guy that kind of started this thing for me,” Murphy-Bunting said. “I just can’t thank him enough. Every time I see him, I tell him how much I love him, tell him how much he means to me, and it’s always going to carry on like that.”
While Murphy-Bunting had yet to receive the ball from his first career touchdown when talking to reporters after the game, he said he already has a spot picked out for it. As you might have guessed, he’s keeping it local.
“It’s staying in Michigan,” he said. “Staying at my mama’s house — right on the shelf.”