DETROIT — Before their full team meeting Wednesday night, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia pulled quarterback David Blough aside. He had been receiving a bunch of reps throughout the week, but this was confirmation. He would be the team’s starting quarterback on Thanksgiving — earning the first start and snaps of his NFL career.
They wanted to make sure he was ready for it before they announced it to the team and, then, the world.
By the time the Lions lost to the Chicago Bears 24-20 on Thursday for their fifth consecutive defeat, they at least knew they had their answer about Blough. The undrafted rookie out of Purdue was definitely ready.
Blough completed 22 of 38 passes for 280 yards, two touchdowns and an interception — often using his feet to buy extra time in the pocket to find an open receiver while also operating efficiently in a game plan devised by offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
Emotionally, it was everything he had hoped for, minus a victory.
“This is what you dream about as a kid,” Blough said. “I’m thankful for all of it. All the ups and downs. I knew that there was going to be some. I wasn’t going to be perfect but I wanted to give it everything that I had and the guys lifted me up, man.
“It was incredible to have the veterans, [Danny] Amendola and the guys come around me and [say], ‘Hey, we got your back.’ That was encouraging for me, a guy who has just been here for 10 or 11 weeks, whatever it is, to know I had those guys in my corner, it was special.”
Blough said it was more than just his teammates. After it was announced he would start because Matthew Stafford (back) and Jeff Driskel (hamstring) were too injured to go, his phone became so active he had to turn it off. Messages from friends, family and former teammates flooded his inboxes offering support.
Then, once he started playing, he received another boost of early confidence. After his first pass attempt to tight end T.J. Hockenson fell very short of the target, a low ball Blough said “didn’t come out pretty,” he hit on his first completion — a wide-open 75-yard touchdown to Kenny Golladay that tied the game 7-7.
“He was definitely pretty ecstatic about it,” guard Joe Dahl said. “It’s a pretty sweet way to start off your career.”
Blough became the third quarterback since the AFL-NFL merger to have his first NFL completion be a touchdown pass of 75 yards or more, joining Neil O’Donnell in 1991 and his Lions teammate, tight end Logan Thomas, who threw an 81-yard touchdown pass in his 2014 debut.
The 24-year-old had an incredibly hot start, throwing for 131 yards and two touchdowns on his first two drives. He also connected on 4 of 6 throws 15 yards downfield in the first half, including three completions to Golladay.
“We were hoping they were thinking a guy like me comes in, we’d throw some checkdowns,” Blough said. “And we were going to throw it around a little bit.”
Patricia said after the game that he wasn’t surprised by Blough’s performance because of what he did at Purdue and how the Lions have seen him work in practice. They hadn’t, though, seen him do any of this in a game for Detroit since the Lions acquired him from Cleveland in a trade at the roster-cutdown deadline in August.
They had seen him only in practice, but his teammates — and coaches — knew he’d be prepared.
“You guys obviously got a glimpse of him and what we’ve all seen every single day,” Patricia said. “His confidence and his ability to go out and compete and his focus and how much he loves this game and what he does. Never really any question from that standpoint.”
It wasn’t enough to win, though, and Blough became the 12th straight Lions quarterback to lose the first start of his NFL career with the team. Eric Hipple in 1981 was the most recent Detroit quarterback to win his first career start.
It also led to questions for Patricia, who has now lost eight of his past nine games as coach and was officially eliminated from playoff contention Thursday, about his future with the Lions (3-8-1) and whether he has been told he’ll be back for the 2020 season.
“For me, we’re just pushing forward every single step of the way,” Patricia said. “So, go back to work next week and try to do a good job at building on this week, and try to go win. Everything we can. We’ve got a big one coming up, Minnesota, obviously it’s a big game.”
Who his quarterback will be against the Vikings — whether Stafford returns from his back injury or he goes with either Blough or Driskel — is still too early to tell.