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Detroit Lions Play of the Week: Breaking down Darius Slay’s TD-saving tackle

Effort + Speed = Win.

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Carolina Panthers v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The width of a football field is 53 and 13 yards, or 160 feet. It’s rare that two players on the opposite sidelines will interact with each other on a single play. That distance is just way too far to make up, and there’s usually someone on the other half of the field that will make the play anyways.

Watch closely in any NFL game, and you’ll consistently see players on one side of the field stop moving when the play goes to the other sideline. Players give up, because they’re out of the play and even a full effort to catch a player is typically just a waste of energy you may need later. No coach will ever teach a player to give up, but it happens all the time.

Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay wasn’t exactly 53 and 13 yards away from Panthers rookie D.J. Moore when the talented receiver wrestled a ball away from undrafted cornerback Mike Ford and broke away, but it’s safe to say it was at least 50 yards—or let’s just say 150 feet. Moore was already turning upfield. Slay was flat-footed.

Didn’t matter. Slay caught him.

Moore broke through arm tackles attempts from Ford and safety Glover Quin, then outmaneuvered Nevin Lawson and Tracy Walker. He beat linebacker Jarrad Davis in a footrace, and Quandre Diggs wasn’t going to catch him.

Didn’t matter, Slay caught him.

Eight months ago, D.J. Moore clocked in with a 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, the fifth-best among receivers in the 2018 draft class.

Didn’t matter. Slay caught him.

What did matter was that Slay did, indeed, catch him. The Detroit Lions managed to barely hold off a Panthers touchdown on the drive, which would have been good enough. Slay prevented a touchdown for a field goal try; that’s a significant four-point difference. But Graham Gano succumbed to the Lions’ Voodoo magic and doinked the short field goal attempt off the left upright. That’s not a four-point difference, that’s a six (maybe seven) point difference.

We weren’t the only ones to note Slay’s hustle play. The effort resonated across the Lions’ sideline and inspired several of his teammates. Here’s what they were saying after the game:

Head coach Matt Patricia:

“That’s a huge play, that’s a great effort play. You know, I mean great hustle, great pursuit, that’s a really fast guy that he’s chasing. Fortunately, we’ve got a faster guy for that moment. So just, we don’t want to quit, we want to keep going, we want to tackle him and just give us a chance to try to get out of a bad situation.”

Safety Tracy Walker:

“It’s definitely a little bit of a confidence booster. It definitely kind of gives the defense another chance to basically make stops, to get a stop and we ended up getting a stop. So, it definitely benefited us in the long run. So, with that being said, it just helped us. Like I said, it gives us another chance to make plays.”

Cornerback Mike Ford (via this excellent article from Chris Burke of “The Athletic.” Read it now):

“After that play,” Ford said, “you hear everyone on defense like, ‘Come on, man, come on, we gotta be tough, let’s make this stop, let’s stand up. They’re not getting anything.’ It just brings us together.”

Cornerback Nevin Lawson (from that same “The Athletic” article. READ IT, DUMMY.)

“That’s why it’s a game of inches and you never stop fighting. I’m just proud of my dog (Slay), he come out here and he grinds all the time, he plays hard for us and we try to do the same. That was a big play by him. That’s why we call him ‘Big Play Slay.’”

Slay himself (via 97.1 The Ticket):

“Just trying to get an extra play because you know anything can happen, just like a missed field goal after that. That comes from me hustling, trusting our defense, trusting our team to stop the ball, and that’s what we did.”

Linebacker Devon Kennard:

It’s easy for fans to sit back watching a 3-6 team and casually throw around accusations that the players have given up or that they don’t believe in Matt Patricia any more. Hell, earlier in the week, Slay even said he wouldn’t have run practices outside like Patricia did. But disagreement does not mean there’s isn’t still mutual respect, and losing games does not mean losing players.

It’s unfair for fans to really ever question a players’ effort, being unaware of the months and months of preparation that goes into getting into football shape and the hours and sleepless nights spent scouring over tape and playbooks to get ready for an upcoming opponent. But even overlooking all of that, Darius Slay put it on tape. He hustles. He cares. And he’s hella fast.