Tackle Taylor Decker is the longest tenured player currently of the Detroit Lions roster.
A 2016 first-round pick, Decker has one playoff appearance on his resume from his rookie year. The Lions went 9-7 and played meaningful football in December in Decker's second season in the league in 2017, but fell short of the playoffs in what would be Jim Caldwell's final season as head coach.
Over the next four seasons Decker was part of Lions teams that never won more than six games in a season. He's been through some tough years, which is why head coach Dan Campbell called Decker out this week as a player he's really happy to see get an opportunity to play meaningful football down the stretch again.
"He's the player who's been around the longest and he saw some earlier success and there was some rough times and now to be able to just kind of have some hope back," Campbell said. "That's probably the best way to say it. I know he's having fun, but he's very much invested in this team. He's all in. But that's one of the guys you want to win for. I mean, you want to help him get there. We appreciate it. He's putting in the work, he's all in and he's a true pro."
A team captain and leader in Detroit's top position group, Decker said being a part of this turnaround and getting a glimpse of what the future could hold with all these young players developing fast and being a key part of the turnaround has been really rewarding.
"It's just cool to see that over the last couple years we've been able to fight, scratch and claw our way out of this thing and start to have some success," Decker said this week. "While it's a small sample size, it's a start. Now the trick is just sustaining that because that's what goods teams do, they sustain it."
Detroit's gone from 1-6 and fans planning for a top draft pick to playing meaningful football in December and having a chance at the playoffs after their current 5-1 stretch over their last six games.
"The guys in this locker room and the staff here, we had to dig ourselves out of that," Decker said. "Nobody was talking about us at that time. I mean, we've been the butt of jokes for years.
"I just think we have to keep it in perspective the work we put in to kind of get us out of that. The acknowledgement is awesome, but we need to realize the work we put in and the people that put that work in and just keep that in perspective."
SIGN OF RESPECT
One of the biggest signs of respect a player in this league can receive is the double team. It's the admission by an opponent they can't handle a player 1 on 1. The Saints famously treated Lions Legend Calvin Johnson like a gunner on the punt team at the goal line by putting two defenders on him at the line of scrimmage.
Lions slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is a very different player than Johnson, but no pass catcher in Lions history has had more production than him through his first two seasons, and opponents are starting to take notice. Teams have started bracketing and double-teaming St. Brown more in recent weeks.
"I noticed a little bit more last game in certain coverages they had," St. Brown said this week. "But you see what happens if you try to take away me. We got guys that can go. Jamo (Jameson Williams) is back, DJ (Chark), Kalif (Raymond) and Josh (Reynolds). We have a lot of weapons on offense and I'm excited because if you take one guy away someone else is going to eat."
Quarterback Jared Goff spent his first five seasons in the NFL with the Rams where he played the San Francisco 49ers twice every year. From 2017-20, current Jets head coach Robert Saleh was the defensive coordinator for the 49ers. Goff sees some similar elements from this Jets defense to the one he faced with the 49ers twice a year.
"In some ways, it is, and in some ways, it isn't," Goff said. "I think the way that they're coached and the way that their front seven play is probably pretty similar, but there are some things that are different in coverage, but they're a well-coached group, and do a good job."
Goff said one thing Saleh definitely brought with him to New York from San Francisco was the type of identity he wants his defense to play with.
"They're well coached and I've played against Coach Saleh a bunch and they're typically well coached and these guys are no different," Goff said. "I've played against San Francisco enough times to know what they bring and typically a good well coached team who is aggressive upfront and tries to get home."
The Jets are fourth in the NFL with 39.0 sacks on the season and rank in the top six in the league in points allowed, total defense and passing defense.