One of the many cruel ironies of the Detroit Lions’ neverending stretch of futility is that on multiple occasions they have bumbled into a breathtaking, generational talent at one of the skill positions, kept that player on the team for his entire career, and then continued winning nothing of note even with this must-see star suiting up in every game. Barry Sanders couldn’t pull the Lions out of limbo. Neither could Calvin Johnson. And the memories of the consistently underwhelming teams they played for set an ominous tone for any new breakouts the Lions try to welcome, like the 22-year-old wide receiver who carried them to a win over Washington on Sunday.
I’m not saying that Amon-Ra St. Brown should already be modeling for a bust in Canton, but the second-year Lion has enjoyed an incredible start to his NFL career, and as a longtime tolerator of Lions football, this fills me with almost as much dread as it does excitement. But wow, does he look good! After a fairly quiet first few weeks in 2021 befitting a fourth-round draft pick, St. Brown became more and more of a favored target for Jared Goff until a standout performance in the Lions’ first win of the year, in Week 13, where he caught 10 passes for 86 yards and scored the ecstatic, buzzer-beating, game-winning touchdown.
St. Brown, popularized by his coach as “The Sun God,” finished his rookie campaign on a tear and has since carried over his momentum into 2022. He was the Lions’ leading receiver in a close Week 1 loss to the Eagles, and then against the Commanders, he just did it all. St. Brown caught nine passes for 116 yards and two TDs in the 36-27 victory—he would have had another score if not for an errant Jared Goff throw at the goal line in the opening quarter—and he showed an explosive ability to run with the ball as well, going 58 yards on this surprising carry to set up another Lions touchdown.
“As I got it, I mean, no one even knew I had the ball,” St. Brown said of this play after the game. “I don’t even think the safety that was looking at me knew I had the ball. And all I hear from the defense is, ‘Oh, shit.’ And I knew. I knew at that point it was gonna be a big play.”
Thanks to plays like that, people are maybe getting optimistic about the Lions again. Part of it may be just because Dan Campbell is a good salesman, but it’s also true that this team features some very eye-catching players. You have St. Brown, who marries reliable possession receiving with downfield threats; D’Andre Swift, who ran all over Philly last week and powered through injury to damage Washington out of the backfield as well; and Aidan Hutchinson, the second overall pick from this year who sacked Carson Wentz thrice on Sunday. Add that to a first win that comes two-and-a-half months before last year’s, and it’s at least a reason to smile. Maybe the Lions can be charismatic, lovable underdogs this year, you might be thinking to yourself. Not a great team, but a tough group with some potent weapons who can hang around most weeks until the end.
Don’t fall for it! The Lions, again and again, suck in their fans with famous superstars, hyped-up draft picks, intriguing early season victories, and even the rare 9-7 season, but it all circles back to heartbreak. This is a team that’s won just a single playoff game in the last 60 years, that hasn’t made it beyond the wild card ever in my lifetime, and even when individual greatness shows its face around Detroit, it never brings institutional change with it. The Lions will be barren forever, and you need not waste your time on this iteration. When I am eventually proven right, you’ll thank me profusely. And if I’m somehow wrong, you won’t be able to find me, because every cell in my body will have exploded from the shock of long-delayed joy.