Sunday proved one thing for the Lions: Keep giving D'Andre Swift the ball

DETROIT – D’Andre Swift found out in the middle of the week that he would be starting for the Detroit Lions for the first time Sunday against Washington. He chose to tell no one about it.

In the rookie running back’s mind, there was no reason to. No need to let anyone know, including his father; it would just be what happened. He likely knew he would be watching. It wasn’t necessarily to be as a surprise, more just what he expected all along.

“I ain’t called nobody,” Swift said. “No reason to. When I’m in them positions, I hold myself to a high standard, you know what I mean. So when I went out there, I wanted them to just see.”

On Sunday, what those close to Swift saw, what everyone watching the Lions saw, was a running back who has blossomed into Detroit’s lead back midway through his first season in Detroit. At this point there’s no reason to do anything else if you’re the Lions.

Swift offers Detroit the best combination of power and speed, of pass-catching ability and bruising running. He's the team's best option to create versatility and unpredictability in the offense. It’s been trending this way for weeks.

Now that Detroit has gone there with Swift -- and he responded with 81 yards on 16 carries (5.1 yards per rush) and five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown -- he has to be the Lions’ top backfield option. Detroit can mix in Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson as it did Sunday -- Peterson had four carries for 21 yards and Johnson one rush for three yards -- but it has to be Swift from now on.

He gives Detroit a versatile playmaker at running back that the team hasn’t truly had since Joique Bell and Reggie Bush in the mid-2000s, a guy who can run up the middle, bounce outside and be a mismatch when he lines up as a receiver.

“The dude is a crazy playmaker and we’ve known that ever since he’s been here and he touched ground,” receiver Marvin Jones said. “When the ball is in his hands, even with somebody like me, I have to keep blocking. I got to keep blocking because you know somehow he’s going to come out of it by making a move or running somebody over or jumping over somebody.

“He’s electric and he’s great to watch, but I got to do less watching and more blocking. Because you never know.”

And that’s been the thing with the Lions. Far too often over the past six years people did know. Johnson offered a respite from rushing predictability for Detroit in 2018 and 2019, but injuries became a problem and now his role in the offense has changed.

In many ways, it has been ceded to Swift.

Swift has shown he’s been better the more work he gets, too. Three of his four best yards-per-carry games have come when he’s received 10 or more carries -- Week 6 against Jacksonville when he had 14 carries for 116 yards (8.29 ypc), Week 9 against Minnesota when he had 13 carries for 64 yards (4.92 ypc) and then Sunday against Washington. He also tied a career-high for targets (five) and catches (five) against Washington while setting a career-best receiving yards total. His 13.6 yards per reception are his best in any game where he had more than one catch.

It’s been steady growth for him, allowing the Lions coaches to trust him more. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has hinted he needed to get Swift more involved. Sunday showed why.

“He’s done a great job of continuing to build on just the repertoire of the packages that he’s in and kind of expand that,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “We have three great backs... but I think for us, in the game, we kind of had some space plays that I thought were really good and I thought we were able to get Swift in some space and allowing him to run. I thought he ran really hard.

“I thought the great thing to see was just his physicality of what he was doing, breaking some tackles and very smart and aware in some of the situations he had.”

It’s all very far from Swift’s first game with the Lions in Week 1. It was then, against the Bears, when Swift dropped the game-winning touchdown reception. He had shown promise then and it’s increased each week.

For as good as he’s looked, Swift is still a rookie. Playing as he did Sunday, when his team needed him to produce and relied on him more than ever, it was an important building point for the future.

“I needed this kind of performance. Kind of go into my first NFL game, drop the winning touchdown,” Swift said. “So just making sure that when I’m out there and in that type of situation when I’m going to catch the ball or my number’s called to catch the ball that I do that.

“So it was a big game for me.”