Lions' Boyle prepares for likely second start as Goff remains in COVID limbo
Allen Park — While nothing will be official until the weekend, odds are good Tim Boyle will be making his second start at quarterback for the Detroit Lions when the team travels to Atlanta to play the Falcons on Sunday.
Starter Jared Goff landed on the COVID/reserve list on Monday, one of 13 Lions players to test positive the past two weeks. And while he's undergoing medical treatment the team hopes will accelerate his ability to test negative, every teammate who has tested positive before him has missed at least one game.
The circumstances of Boyle's last go-around were far from ideal. Sidelined nearly three months by thumb surgery, and playing in inclement conditions against one of the NFL's best pass rushes in Cleveland, the Lions opted for a conservative game plan in the young quarterback's first career start.
He finished that day throwing for just 77 yards without a touchdown, while getting intercepted twice in the 13-10 loss.
Boyle has reflected plenty on those 48 snaps, pondering what went right and what went wrong, jotting those thoughts down as he's prepared for the next opportunity, whenever it might come.
As he sees it, a lot of his inconsistencies come down to nerves and patience. He wants to do a better job sticking in the pocket longer, while not rushing his decisions if he gets in another two-minute drill. These are things that tend to naturally develop with experience, but that's not a luxury Boyle has as a backup quarterback.
But more than any improvements to his stat line, the one thing Boyle wants more than anything is to get his first win as a starter, while helping the Lions keep their positive momentum going to close out an otherwise dismal season.
"If I throw for 77 yards again and we win, I don’t really care," Boyle said. "I know that’s kind of, does he actually mean that? Yeah, I’m fighting for my first win as well as our third win."
In terms of his confidence now compared to the game against the Browns last month, Boyle called it night and day.
"I came off of I think 11 weeks of not throwing a football," Boyle said. "Just the gripping the football, the confidence in the grip, and you kind of feel some aches and some tightness, but as every week progresses and every day progresses, it gets better and better."
Boyle estimated his surgically repaired thumb is at 98%, with some lingering range of motion issues. He compared it to having the small rubber pellets from the artificial turf in his cleats. It's not something holding him back, but it's an annoyance that's continually on his mind.
In addition to his own physical improvements, Boyle would be stepping into a situation where the whole offense has been playing much better, scoring 29 and 30 points in two of the past three games. That improvement has coincided with midseason waiver claim Josh Reynolds getting acclimated, rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown becoming a focal point of the passing game and an increased amount of creativity in the game-planning following a play-calling shakeup.
Those changes culminated with Goff having his best performance of the season last week, completing 21-of-26 for 216 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in a 30-12 win over Arizona.
Goff self-reported symptoms in the evening after that game and ended up testing positive for COVID the next day. The NFL is no longer requiring asymptomatic vaccinated players to test, so the responsibility falls on the player. Campbell said several have requested tests already, more out of concerns for others than themselves.
"Those are the things you don’t want to lose sight of," Campbell said. "There is still that, ‘Hey man, it’s one thing for me to get it, but I’m thinking about my family, too.’ So, that’s a real thing, and so I think what Goff did, I think that was the first thing he thought of. It wasn’t the fact that, ‘Man, I feel sick and I don’t feel good.’ I think it was like, ‘Man, I don’t want to spread this to somebody that’s really worried about this or could affect them or their family.’ Look, I think that’s good."
While out of the building, Goff is continuing to attend meetings virtually on the chance that he's cleared ahead of Sunday.
"It’s like he’s there," Campbell said. "He’s got the plan at home right now. He’s looking at it and it’s kind of like when he had the flu a couple of weeks ago. We had the iPad out there as the plays are being called and run. So, it’s like he’s here as much as he can be without actually being in the building. He’s preparing that way and then we’ll see where it goes."
Whether it's Goff or Boyle, Campbell is confident in his staff's ability to build a successful game plan for Sunday's game in Atlanta.
"Here is what kind of fires us up is Tim’s been in it now four weeks," Campbell said. "He’s been practicing and he was kind of fresh right back from the injury, really a week off the injury (against Cleveland). Now, he’s had another four weeks of being in there and he’s taking most of the scout team reps.
"... So he’s got his feet back under him," Campbell said. "He’s got his rhythm back to him. He’s throwing it well. And now, he’s got a game under his belt. I think this will be good and I don’t feel like we’re going to be hindered."