Veteran tight end Brandon Pettigrew returned to the practice field Tuesday for the first time since tearing his left ACL last December in St. Louis. Tuesday was the deadline for Pettigrew to return to practice.
Pettigrew has been on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list since the beginning of training camp.
The Lions now have 21 days to see him practice before determining if they want to activate him to the 53-man roster, or keep him on PUP, ending his 2016 season.
When healthy, Pettigrew is one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, which could no-doubt help the Lions' 30th ranked rushing offense (79.5).
He's also caught 301 passes for 2,965 yards and 17 touchdowns over a seven–year career. Third-year tight end Eric Ebron is the team's No. 1 pass-catching tight end with 35 catches for 451 yards on the season, but the Lions have received just five receptions for 37 yards from all their other tight ends combined.
Rob Rubick had a flashback to his rookie season when Ebron scored a touchdown on a one-yard run to give the Lions the lead in Sunday's victory over Jacksonville.
Rubick was the last tight end to run for a touchdown for the Lions, and he did it as a rookie in 1982.
Rubick still remembers the play that was called.
"It was 'Fake 36 George, wing reverse left,'" Rubick recalled when asked about the play.
Boiling down all that verbiage, Rubick lined up as an extra tight end on the wing to the right, took an inside handoff and ran around left end into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
It was the last game of the '82 season that was shortened to nine games because of a players strike. It gave the Lions a 27-24 victory over the Packers at the old Pontiac Silverdome and put them in the playoffs with a 4-5 record. The field was expanded to eight teams in both the AFC and NFC.
Rubick was an unexpected and unlikely hero. He was a rookie who made the roster as a 12th-round draft pick out of Grand Valley State. Ultimately, he spent seven seasons with the Lions, primarily as a backup tight end.
The touchdown run was the first, last and only play Rubick ran as a rookie. He was in the game on the critical play because of an injury to Leonard Thompson, a wide receiver who took the tight end's position in the wing on that play.
"I had to back up all three tight end spots," said Rubick. "I saw Leonard get hurt. He was hitting his chest. Somebody on the sideline yelled 'Backup tight end!,' and I got in the game."
When he heard the play call in the huddle, Rubick knew the ball was coming to him – on a play he had never run, even in practice.
"As I was getting in my stance, putting my hand on the ground, I was thinking, 'I have to run this,'" Rubick recalled. "I didn't have time to get nervous."
Rubick celebrated in the end zone with an overhand power spike. Running off the field, he got high fives and hugs from veterans such as Doug English and Bubba Baker.
"I told Bubba after the game, 'You don't even know my name,'" Rubick said, laughing at the memory.
Detroit's inability to run the football this past weekend against Jacksonville was glaring on the stat sheet, but they've struggled with consistency on that front most of the season. Detroit ranks 30th running the football (79.5).
Quarterback Matthew Stafford's been asked to shoulder a lot of load for the offense, not only this season, but really dating back to 2011, when he started his first full season and has started every game since.
Since 2011, the Lions have recorded 100 yards rushing as a team just 36 times. That's tied with the New York Giants for the fewest over that stretch of 91 games. The league average over that span is 50.
For comparison's sake, Carolina leads the league with 73 such performances over that span. Seattle has 68 and the Chiefs 65.
"The goal every week is to be efficient and explosive in the run game," Stafford said this week. "Some weeks we've achieved that goal and others we haven't. Obviously last week wasn't good enough."
As far as individual 100-yard rushers go, since 2011, the Lions have had six. Only the Colts (3) have had fewer.
Stafford and the passing attack have been able to compensate at times, but if the Lions are going to better on offense down the stretch, they'll need more contributions from that segment of their offense.
Another 21-carry, 14-yard performance, which they registered last Sunday vs. Jacksonville, probably won't cut it Thursday against a very good Vikings defense.
"The good thing about playing on a Thursday is you kind of get to go out there and quickly redeem yourself and wash that taste out of your mouth as far as running the ball goes," Stafford said.
"We're looking forward to that opportunity, like I said, Minnesota is a big challenge for us as an offense."
Mike O'Hara contributed to this report