Stephen Tulloch, Alphonso Smith with big games in Lions' win over Vikings

Posted Dec 11, 2011

Stephen Tulloch hadn't scored a touchdown since his junior year at North Carolina State.

Alphonso Smith wasn't even on the active roster for three of the Lions' first 12 games this season and played mostly on special teams in the others after starting 10 games at cornerback for Detroit last year.

Sunday, Tulloch and Smith both scored touchdowns to give the Lions an early lead in their 34-28 victory against Minnesota at Ford Field.

The game was barely two minutes old when Tulloch pounced on rookie quarterback Christian Ponder's fumble in the endzone for his first NFL touchdown.

"That was huge," Tulloch said. "There was man coverage and (defensive end) Cliff (Avril) made a hell of a play coming off the edge to cause the fumble. I was able to get past my man and was able to get on the ball and score. That gave us momentum going forward."

Then it was Smith's turn.

He intercepted Ponder's first pass of the game to set up the Lions' second score -- a 57-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to rookie Titus Young.

Smith was far from finished for the day.

Early in the second quarter he picked off another of Ponder's passes and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown that put the Lions ahead 28-7.

At the end of the day, Smith's stat line read: two interceptions, three passes defended and five tackles.

Not bad for someone who might not have even had a chance to play except for injuries to several defensive backs.

Tulloch wasn't surprised by Smith's productive afternoon.

"Alphonso is one of the smartest men on the team," said the veteran linebacker. "He understands coverages. He understands offenses. He practices hard. People gave him a hard time in the New England game last year, but I'm in awe of the way he responded and the way he practices week-in and week-out. I'm glad he was able to perform the way he did today."

Smith smiled when informed of Tulloch's comment.

"I do a great job of preparing every week," he said. "That's one of my staples. I'd like to think that's one of the reasons I got a chance to play in the NFL."

Smith's first interception was a result of that preparation.

"The first one was a play I made on Tuesday -- my off-day -- watching (Ponder) on film," Smith said. "The second one was more of a personnel thing, going against a guy I figured could run past me. Greg Camarillo is a slot guy and I remember him from his Dolphins days, so it was more of a match-up thing."

Smith faced Ponder in college when he was playing at Wake Forest and Ponder was at Florida State.

"I'd like to think that helped, but this is a totally different offense and a totally different league," Smith said. "I had success against him in college. It's just being comfortable with the way he throws the ball -- being aware of the good throws he can make and the bad throws he can make."

Smith nearly had two other interceptions, including one late in the game when Minnesota was driving for a game-winning score.

He took some good-natured ribbing from backup quarterbacks Drew Stanton and Shaun Hill for not catching those balls, too.

"They got on me because I usually catch balls with the receivers," Smith said. "They asked me, where were my hands? I was kind of disappointed those guys. That second one in the two-minute (drill) is really going to bother me because that could have sewed up the game."

Smith said that his faith and his wife helped keep him going when he wasn't getting a chance to play.

"Things get tough. You want to give up. You want to lose faith. You want to doubt yourself," he said. "My wife kept me strong and guided me to a higher power that I needed in my life. They helped me through this. I was able to keep things in perspective."

Smith also gave credit to secondary coach Tim Walton.

"He does a great job of preparing everyone," Smith said. "He coaches Louis Delmas the same way he coaches Ricardo Silva. He gets everyone prepared from the best player to the worst player because in this league, especially in the secondary, you never know when a guy's going to go down."

Defenses, especially ones with several veteran players like the Lions, get excited about facing rookie quarterbacks like Ponder.

"He's a rookie quarterback," Tulloch said. "He eyes down the receivers a little more than the typical veteran quarterback. Alphonso made some great plays on the ball and Eric Wright did, too. Making those turnovers early helped our offense today.

"Our defense played well today. We've got to keep causing turnovers. This franchise hasn't been in the playoffs for 11 years. A lot of guys haven't had that taste. We've got veterans who can lead these guys in the right direction. It's a three-game season now."