With a 17-yard catch in the first quarter of Sunday's season finale against Green Bay, Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown passed Roy Williams, setting the franchise record for receiving yards by a rookie.
Williams set the mark in 2004, when he had 54 catches for 817 yards in 14 games. St. Brown caught eight passes for 109 yards and a touchdown Sunday to finish with 90 receptions for 912 yards and six total touchdowns on the year. He finished the season with a touchdown catch in each of his last four contests.
St. Brown, a fourth-round pick out of USC, has been one of Detroit's best stories of the 2021 season. After a slow start, where he caught 39 passes for 352 yards and no touchdowns through 11 games, he surged to the finish line, setting the NFL rookie record and the Lions franchise record with six consecutive games with at least eight catches in each contest to end the season.
"This kid is – I mean, he's better than gold," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said of St. Brown after Sunday's 37-30 win over Green Bay.
"When you're the athlete he is, explosive, but then you're tough and you're competitive, it's just the way you're made up and he's smart. And those guys are hard to find that are all-encompassing like that, so, I'm glad we've got him, and he proved again. The consistency is there, that's for dang sure."
St. Brown finished Sunday catching eight of his 10 targets for 109 yards (13.6 average) with a touchdown.
"It's a credit to my teammates, credit to the coaches, to the people around me," St. Brown said. "Without them I couldn't have done what I've done this year. I think hard work, patience, opportunity, when those all come together, it's awesome to see."
The ceiling is certainly very high for St. Brown, who says he'll never forget he was the 17th receiver taken in last year's NFL Draft.
Lions fourth-year safety Tracy Walker led the Lions with 13 tackles Sunday and sealed the game with an interception of Packers quarterback Jordan Love in the final minute. He did lament, however, a missed tackle that resulted in a long Packers touchdown giving them a brief lead with under five minutes to play.
Still, Walker's good plays this year have far outweighed his bad ones. His performance Sunday gives him 105 tackles on the season, which is the second time in his career he's topped the 100-tackle mark. He joins safety Bennie Blades as the only Lions defensive backs to produce multiple seasons with at least 100 tackles.
"Well, it definitely gives us that confidence to go into next year understanding where we stand at right now and where we can continue to build on," Walker said of what it means to finish the year out strong with a win.
"And right now, man, it's just kind of up from here, you know what I mean? Like I said, the main thing for us is we were trying to establish a foundation this year and we finished out the season the right way that we wanted to. So, looking forward to next year where we're going to continue to build."
Walker, who is scheduled to become a free agent this offseason, said he loves playing for Campbell and this coaching staff and wants to be part of the foundation here in Detroit moving forward.
Offensive line coach Hank Fraley was a holdover retained by Campbell from the previous coaching staff, and what a nice decision it was.
Despite all the injuries and all the shuffling upfront all season long, Detroit's offensive line has been consistent and steady all year. That's a big credit to Fraley.
Sunday was another example of how Fraley's prepared his guys for every scenario. The team was without right tackle Penei Sewell, so Matt Nelson stepped in seamlessly, like he's done all year.
Backup center Evan Brown injured his ankle early on. He was replaced by Ryan McCollum, but with McCollum playing so-so and the Lions looking for a spark late, they moved Jonah Jackson from left guard to center and plugged in rookie Tommy Kraemer at guard. The run game got going, the pass game did too, and the Lions came back to beat the Packers late with a terrific 75-yard scoring drive in the final five minutes of the game.
"It means a lot," Jackson said of Detroit's flexibility and depth up front. "It's a credit to Hank (Fraley) and the rest of the guys to be ready on the fly. If another guy goes down, you need to be ready. So versatility is something we take pride in."
- Detroit established a new NFL record for the most fourth-down conversions (21) and fourth-down attempts (41) in NFL history.
- The Lions had a wide receiver (St. Brown), tight end (T.J. Hockenson) and running back (D’Andre Swift) produce 60 catches in the same season for the first time in franchise history.
- Detroit committed only two penalties for 15 yards Sunday.
- Outside linebacker Julian Okwara notched three solo tackles, 2.0 sacks and one forced fumble against Green Bay, becoming the first Lion since Cliff Avril in 2011 to produce a season with 5.0 sacks, one interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.