It was a game that mattered very little for the bigger picture of the Detroit Lions. They weren’t making the playoffs. They had no chance at a winning record. Their offense was decimated.
But in that moment against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17, there was also opportunity. Chances for the present and the future to simultaneously work together in a way that could give confidence to younger players and allow coaches to get an idea for the future.
It’s probably too much to read into one performance in one game, particularly at wide receiver – where the history of the NFL is littered with one-game wonders who never find sustainability in professional football. But one game can give hope – and a reason to take a longer look.
The Lions kept Brandon Powell on the roster all season long despite barely using him. They thought he had potential. He just never had a chance to show it at all. That is until Week 17, when he had six catches for 103 yards and gave Detroit at least a reason to consider him as a potential part of its future.
“Like they say, you got to wait your turn,” Powell said. “Undrafted free agent, undrafted rookie, you just got to wait your turn. My turn came the last game of the season, go out there, have fun and make plays.”
It was thought Powell’s chance might come sooner. One of the reasons the Lions kept Powell on the active roster is there was a chance he could be a replacement for Golden Tate. Tate had been a dynamic slot receiver for the Lions throughout his time in Detroit and Powell could learn for a year behind him. Maybe take his spot if Tate left in free agency after the season.
Then the Lions traded Tate at the deadline this year. It opened up a chance. Powell never got it. The Lions signed Bruce Ellington instead, and Powell had to wait some more – getting minimal opportunities until the season’s final game.
“I mean, we both played the same position and we were short one slot, so obviously, yeah, you’re going to think you have a big opportunity now being that Golden Tate’s gone,” Powell said. “But I was just waiting, like I said, I didn’t expect anything.
“Just practicing every week, trying to prove myself and it came down to [Week 17].”
It also helped teach Powell a lesson he didn’t know. At Florida, he had his spot on the roster. He could lose his role on the team but never lose his place on it. In the NFL, if you don’t play well, you could end up unemployed.
So he was nervous entering Green Bay in the season’s final week, but that dissipated quickly. He got comfortable in the game, even if he knows he can’t get comfortable in the league. Not yet. Undrafted. Barely playing. Getting one shot.
He knows every time he plays – both now and in the future – he’s going to need to perform. To do that, he’s going back to what he knows this offseason. He’s heading back home to Deerfield Beach, Florida, to train with his high school coaches.
“Coming out of college, you don’t know what the NFL is like,” Powell said. “I still have a lot to learn. I learned a lot this year but I still have a lot to learn.
“It’s my first year. Just that’s the main thing I say, you have to work every day. Can never get too comfortable.”
He can’t. Not yet. But what he did in the season’s final week should give him at least a shot to stick next year with the Lions.