For Detroit Lions rookie defensive back Brain Branch, it’s hard to imagine a better start to his NFL career. On a national stage for the NFL kickoff game, Branch made a game-shifting play, picking off future Hall of Famer Patrick Mahomes and returning it for a touchdown to tie the game early in the third quarter.
On the play, Branch was sitting in a zone when he noticed Chiefs receiver Kadarius Toney running a crossing route in front of him. Being that it was a third-and-6, Branch read Mahomes and closed fast, preparing to lay a big hit on Toney and expecting to stop him before earning a first down.
“Jerry (Jacobs) was doing a good job sticking with him across the field, and if Kadarius would have caught it, it just would’ve been a tackle and we would have been off the field,” Branch explained on Monday. “But thankfully, he tipped it–well, he dropped it basically–and I was able to pick it. Picking off Mahomes, that’s a great feeling.”
Toney did indeed drop it on what would be a tough night for the young receiver. But Branch deserves credit, too. Not only was he in the perfect position to make a drive-ending tackle, but his reaction time—going from tackler to receiver in an instant—was impressive.
“It’s a dream come true,” Branch said. “Just feeling like a little kid, and just being out there. As a little kid, you look to players in the NFL and one day hoping you could make a play like that. Just being able to make that play for my first game, I’m blessed.”
Branch has watched the play over and over again—he estimates 100 times now. However, he was not fully satisfied with his play on Thursday and knows he’ll need to be better going forward.
“I did okay, in my eyes,” Branch said. “Like Coach Dan (Campbell) said, I do have a lot of corrections that I do need to correct. But it was a good first game. Moving forward, just have to fix those and not let them become the same mistakes over and over again.”
That challenge continues this week against a very impressive group of Seattle Seahawks receivers. Branch could see a familiar opponent on Sunday, as Seahawks rookie receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba faced off against Branch in the National Championship game for the 2020 season. That day, Smith-Njigba only managed 20 yards on two catches.
“He’s a good receiver,” Branch said. “Shifty, knows the defense in a way, knows how to get open. Just, really, my eyes this game, (are) going to be a big part for me that I’ve got to work on. It’s going to be a good game.”