Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson seemed optimistic Thursday that the hand injury he's been dealing with this week wouldn't keep him out of the lineup Sunday in Denver.
But just 24 hours later it appears the Lions will be without Hockenson this week, as he was listed as doubtful to play Sunday on Friday's injury report. Lions head coach Dan Campbell said earlier Friday it was unlikely running back D’Andre Swift would play either, which means the Lions won't have their two most explosive offensive weapons this week against a very good Denver defense.
Hockenson missed practice Thursday and Friday after being listed as a limited participant on Wednesday.
Swift hasn't practiced in two weeks since spraining his shoulder on Thanksgiving against Chicago. He missed last week's game against Minnesota and has been ruled out for Sunday's game in Denver.
It's now a next-man-up mentality offensively for the Lions heading out west to play a Denver team that ranks third in the NFL in points allowed (18.2 per game).
Hockenson leads the Lions in targets (84), receptions (61), receiving yards (583) and receiving touchdowns (4). His 61 catches currently leads NFC tight ends and his receiving yards rank fourth.
Swift is one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL. He's rushed for 555 yards and four touchdowns and caught 56 passes for another 429 yards and two scores. Between Hockenson and Swift combined, the Lions are missing out on 1,567 yards, 117 receptions and 10 touchdowns worth of production.
Expect Brock Wright to fill in for Hockenson at tight end, and for hybrid fullback/tight end Jason Cabinda to be in the mix there, too. The team could also elevate either of their practices squad tight ends – Shane Zylstra or Nick Eubanks.
Veteran Jamaal Williams, who was expected to carry most of the load in place of Swift, was placed on Reserve/COVID-19 Friday. Running backs Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike will need to step up.
Rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes made one of the key plays last week to thwart Minnesota's second two-point try of the game. Barnes pushed through the line and stuffed Vikings running back Alexander Mattison, keeping him out of the end zone. Minnesota was 0-for-3 on two-point tries in the contest.
"Those are critical situations that you put yourself in you're like, 'OK, what can we do to not let them get this.' I think you have to expect the ball to come your way and expect it to be on you," Barnes said. "One thing people don't notice is when you're in the game in critical situations like that guys sometimes pray that the play doesn't come their way.
"Just to put yourself on that big stage, is like for me, I said, 'OK, the ball comes my way I have to make the play.' Situations like that is key."
Barnes had two tackles and one tackle for loss against the Vikings as he continues to play an increased role with veteran linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin recovering from a shoulder injury.
TURNING THE CORNER
The Lions enjoyed the unseasonably warm December Michigan weather Friday and got a chance to get outdoors for practice in Allen Park.
The Lions have been ravaged by the flu bug this week, which has changed the way they've had to schedule practices and meetings, impacting their overall preparations for Sunday. But it does look like they're turning a corner in fighting off the flu.
"We are going to go out and practice, we got a lot of our guys back," Campbell said Friday. "We got them out of the infirmary and see if we can't get a good practice and get ready for Denver here."
Campbell said there were only three or four players expected to sit out Friday's session due to illness. That number is down significantly from earlier in the week.