DETROIT – Kenny Golladay split the two defenders and sprinted down the left side of the field. His quarterback, Matthew Stafford, launched the ball to him as he raced toward the end zone. Golladay extended fully and made the diving catch as he crossed into the end zone.
Flag. Called back. A brilliant play, one that would be on any highlight reel and continue to introduce the second-year player to the rest of the NFL, lost to the ether of an illegal hands to the face penalty by rookie offensive lineman Frank Ragnow.
The Lions, and Golladay, needed something again.
The next drive, Golladay had his chance again. Stafford threw a ball as Golladay again worked the left side. He leapt up, snagging the ball over Green Bay corner Josh Jackson. He landed on his feet and kept running, stiff-arming Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the ground before bring brought down 60 yards later.
It wasn’t a touchdown, but it was highlight redemption that led to another score. It all happened in the first quarter and when Golladay can start games off like that, with two potential game-changers in two drives, it usually portends good things.
“When he made the next one I was pretty happy for him, because, you know, especially in this league, whenever you make a play and it gets called back by a penalty, it’s a huge dagger,” tight end Luke Willson said. “Like a especially a great one like that, so for him to go and do it again was pretty sweet.”
Where last year he was the rookie with potential hampered by a hamstring injury that lingered, this year Golladay has been completely healthy. He has become one of the triad: Detroit’s main three receivers who have all had proven success and have turned into one of the tougher receiving corps in the league.
Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. are established. Golladay is the new guy, the 6-foot-4 leaper with a catch radius rivaled by few others in the NFL. Through five games this season, he’s one catch and 49 yards from his total marks last year. He’s on pace for 86 catches, 1,370 yards and nine touchdowns.
That would almost certainly put him around the top 10 receivers statistically. Add what Jones and Tate typically do and it becomes problematic for opponents -- a situation Willson surmises could be “overwhelming” for defenses. Who do you cover? Who do you double? Or do you just take your chances and hope your corners are good enough (Hint: They usually aren’t).
Some games, it means Tate will have a huge night. Other times, it’ll be Jones. Afternoons like Sunday meant Golladay, whom Stafford threw to in the first half almost as much as every other receiver combined.
“All three of us, everybody complements each other,” Jones said. “You know what I’m saying? Just like we always say, some games that’s how it’s going to be. Just the fact that we have all of us out there with the ability to make those plays, it’s a great thing.”
A lot of Golladay’s progression has to do with Stafford. They rarely had time to truly develop a rapport last season. Golladay came in as a rookie then missed time. Stafford downplayed Golladay’s emergence a little bit – pointing out Tate’s eight-catch, 132-yard performance against Dallas the week prior.
Stafford said it more had to do with matchups, and that’s the thing with Golladay. Few defenses have a cornerback who can properly handle his combination of size, speed and hops.
“We’ve been together now for going on two years,” Golladay said. “So we’ve been working every day together so our relationship is building.”
There’s another aspect to Golladay’s game that makes it very tough to take him off the field – a quality he shares with Tate and Jones. He has no issues blocking – or hitting. The blocking shows up on a weekly basis. In the season opener against the Jets, he was a rare bright spot with his receiving work and his jarring hit on Trumaine Johnson, forcing a fumble after a Stafford interception.
It wasn’t a block, but it showed how physical Golladay would be willing to be in the moment. And most of the high-level receivers understand that. Blocking is part of the game. Not glamorous like catching a touchdown or making a highlight-reel play, but essential nonetheless. And Golladay has treated it like an essential part of his game.
“I mean, blocking isn’t unusual,” Golladay said. “Had to do it in college, had to do it in high school, had to do it in the pros. So anything, you know, to get our offense going. I look at it like that.
“You know, if they want to put me in there and make me block a linebacker, that’s fine with me. You know, come down on the down safety, I’ll do it.”
The Lions want Golladay for more than his blocking. More so, they want him for everything else – the catch radius, the ability to stiff-arm and keep going, the ability to jump and run as he does.
Golladay and rookie running back Kerryon Johnson are a glimpse into the future of the Lions' offense.
“We’re both young, both talented players but neither one of us could do it without the other guys on the field, so those guys help us make plays,” Johnson said. “We return the favor by making those plays, capitalizing on those opportunities and it’s all a team thing.
“It all comes together. I think it says we could be pretty good.”
In the present and the future, for one of the rare times for the Lions, that seems to be true.