EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –It can be a rookie returning a punt for a touchdown, or the franchise quarterback playing game manager. Or the star pass rusher shaking off the rust from some injuries and playing like a star.
A lot of things make up the formula that produces the result in a football game. In the case of the Detroit Lions, the result was a 24-10 victory over the New York Giants on Monday Night Football.
One part of that formula doesn't change. Never be surprised by what a professional football player does. If we hadn't learned it before, we learned it again Monday night.
The Lions used their whole roster to beat the Giants – from rookies to stars.
"Absolutely," said Matthew Stafford, who managed the game with his moxie and legs. "We had some guys playing in different spots. They had to pick up the slack."
He referred to the 88-yard punt return by rookie Jamal Agnew that extended the Lions' lead to 24-10 – the final score – and gave them some breathing room. He noted the pass rush – five sacks, three of them by Ziggy Ansah.
The learning curve on the Lions is flattening out quickly, with a 2-0 record. What we learned about the Lions from Monday night's win includes the following:
Rookie return: Agnew had a couple nice returns in the Lions' opener, but they were mostly field-position savers.
What he did Monday night was clinch a game with his 88-yard TD return in the fourth quarter that closed out the scoring and gave the Lions their final 14-point margin.
Agnew tracked a 60-yard punt and slightly over ran. He had to reach back to make the catch at knee level, then break upfield. Once he got free from the first tackler, Agnew said he knew he could go all the way.
"When I saw it was me and the punter, I knew I was gone. If I let the punter tackle me, I'm taking myself out.
"It's so surreal right now."
Ziggy: If there were concerns if Ansah would come back from knee and ankle injuries to play at his 2015 Pro Bowl level when he had 14.5 sacks, he answered them with his three-sack performance.
He was asked how it felt different between getting pressure and actually getting the quarterback on the ground.
"That's a rhetorical question," Ziggy replied with a trace of a smile. "A sack looks better than a hurry. That's what I'm paid to do – put the quarterback down."
T.J. – spreading the joy: Players know what winning means, and it's not just confined to their immediate environment.
T.J. Lang was used to winning regularly in Green Bay, where the Packers made the playoffs the last eight years and won the NFC North five times in the last six seasons.
The Lions have made the playoffs three times in the last six years. It's a nice run, but it doesn't compare to what the Packers have done. Lang, who grew up in Metro Detroit, knows what being 2-0 means to the fans.
"We don't just play for the people in the locker room," he said. "We've got a lot of fans in Detroit who are hungry for winning."
T.J. – personal protector: He thought Stafford took a shot that was outside the rules when he slid at the end of a scramble. Lang immediately got into the scrum to administer some on-field justice, if there needed to be any. It didn't come to that.
"You don't let people take shots at your players," Lang said. "Especially the quarterback."
Glover Quin – togetherness: The core of the secondary has been together for a few years now, and it shows in their play.
"The vibe is better," Quin said. "The focus is better. Your chemistry is tighter. Everybody is seeing the same things."
What they hear: The Giants' fans are impatient, and they weren't happy with the way the team was playing when the Lions took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. They made their feelings known with loud boos.
What does it feel like to hear the home team booed – even early in the game.
"It's cool," Quin said, smiling.