What a national audience got to see from Detroit Lions rookie Brian Branch last Thursday, picking off Patrick Mahomes and returning it 50 yards for a touchdown, is the same thing anyone who was at training camp practice in Allen Park saw on a daily basis.
Branch is a pure playmaker, and now 31 other teams know what the Lions have known for months.
"It's just a dream come true since I was a little kid," Branch said Monday of the interception. "As a little kid you looked up to players in the NFL one day hoping you could make a play like that. Just being able to make that play for my first game. I'm blessed. Just got to keep going."
The interception early in the third quarter came with the Lions trailing 14-7 at the time and the Chiefs driving. It was a game-changing play for Detroit.
Branch's playmaking ability made it hard for coaches to keep him off the field dating all the way back to OTAs. It's why their plan to play veteran C.J. Gardner-Johnson in the slot when he was signed in free agency changed to Gardner-Johnson playing safety and Branch playing the nickel. The youngster was just too good to not to be on the field somewhere.
Branch doesn't lack confidence, but he said Monday a play like that gives him an even bigger boost of it.
The challenge doesn't get any easier this week with Seattle and their terrific wide receiver trio of DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba coming to Ford Field. Branch said communication and eye discipline will be key this week, especially pre-snap communication with the expectation that Ford Field will be rocking when the Lions are on defense.
Branch still has a chip on his shoulder from lasting into the second round of the NFL Draft this offseason. He plans to continue making plays like he did Week 1 and prove everyone was wrong about him on draft day.
"I just got to keep on proving them wrong," he said. "This is only the beginning. Just got to keep on pushing forward."
RAGNOW'S NEW ROUTINE
Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow admits he was in a dark place with his chronic toe injury after last season.
But that was before new Lions Director of Player Health and Performance Brett Fischer and Ragnow came up with a maintenance program that includes prehab, rehab, exercises and days off practice.
"Incredible," Ragnow said Monday. "I can't say enough about Fish (Fischer) and (Head Athletic Trainer) Mike (Sundeen). I was in a dark place, I'm not going to lie with this toe. And they've been able to make me see the light. It's been hands down a lot better, so I'm very grateful for them and then Dan (Campbell) and Brad (Holmes). It's hard as a player to not be practicing with your guys. That's the part that sucks. But understanding for the long run and Sundays it's going to help me a lot."
Ragnow joked that Fischer told him he thinks more about his toe than his wife sometimes, which got a laugh from the room. Ragnow said he feels bad about it, but he certainly appreciates everything Fischer and his staff have done and continue to do to keep one of the best centers in the NFL feeling good and available on gameday.
Wide receiver Josh Reynolds has been stepping up and making big plays for the Lions' offense ever since joining the team midway through the 2021 season.
Reynolds led Detroit with four catches for 80 yards, including two third-down conversions and a big 33-yard grab that led to the game-winning touchdown, in Detroit's 21-20 win in Kansas City Week 1.
"Reynolds really came up big for us the other day," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said Monday. "I'd say he's notorious for that, in a good way. He does kind of fly under the radar. He's a guy that has a ton of versatility and we ask him to do a lot.
"He plays the X, he plays the Z, he can play in the heavy packages. We do a lot, so he's very reliable mentally and productive-wise. He does a lot. We needed somebody to step up in that game in that receiver room and he really did."
Campbell is 0-2 against the Seattle Seahawks since taking over as Detroit's head coach in 2021. Detroit lost in Seattle, 51-29, Week 17 of the 2021 season and lost in a thrilling shootout, 48-45, in Week 4 of last season. The loss to Seattle last year was the tie breaker that sent Seattle to the playoffs and not Detroit with identical 9-8 records in the regular season.
Despite Seattle losing big Sunday, 30-13, at home to the Los Angeles Rams, Campbell knows his team is in for a fight Sunday at Ford Field. He hasn't forgotten how big of a loss that was to the Seahawks last season.
"This team always presents problems," he said Monday. "They've been a thorn in our side for two years. We know what's going to be coming in here. We're going to assume the best out of them. They got after us pretty good last year. That's something we won't forget."
Campbell on the status of injured left tackle Taylor Decker (ankle): "He's alright. We'll see."