MINNEAPOLIS — When Jared Goff's pass on the last play of the game in Detroit last year sailed across the goal line and landed in the arms of a rookie named Amon-Ra St. Brown to stick Minnesota with a stunning defeat, the identity of the receiver seemed rather insignificant at the time.
The Lions finally, in Week 13, had a win to celebrate for coach Dan Campbell.
The Vikings, then still on the fringe of the playoff race, took their most inexcusable loss in an exasperating season that essentially sealed the firing of coach Mike Zimmer one month later.
That dramatic ending on Dec. 5 also turned out to be the beginning of a remarkable run for St. Brown, who has blossomed into a legitimate star of a potent Lions offense. The fourth-round draft pick out of USC has eight or more receptions in eight consecutive games, tied for the longest such streak in NFL history.
“He's as steady as a rock. You can always depend on what he is going to bring every day, not just on Sunday, but on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday," Campbell said. “He’s been that way since he walked in the door as a rookie, and nothing has changed.”
That touchdown catch to beat the Vikings last year was the first of his career. From that day through last week's 36-27 win over Washington, St. Brown has 68 receptions for 740 yards and eight touchdowns. He even ran twice for 68 yards against the Commanders.
“He runs good routes. He gets himself open,” said Goff, who's also in his second season with Detroit. “It hasn’t felt forced. That’s why it kind of jumps up on us, ‘Wow, it’s been eight games in a row,' or whatever it is. It’s just kind of been natural."
St. Brown, whose older brother Equanimeous St. Brown is a wide receiver for Chicago after four seasons with Green Bay, is the son of a champion bodybuilder, John St. Brown. His mother, who's from Germany, guided the two boys to learn both French and German.
His background is already unique, but he's driven to make himself a one-of-a-kind player on the field, too, as a tireless worker who catches hundreds of balls off the Jugs machine after every practice. The Lions have described him as a quarterback-friendly target with sound technique and a high level of on-field awareness.
“When he makes a mistake, it's like, ‘Huh?’” Goff said.
As featured on HBO's annual training camp documentary, “Hard Knocks,” St. Brown has derived plenty of motivation from his afterthought status as an NFL prospect. He cited on the show all 16 wide receivers who were drafted in front of him last year.
“I don't forget things like that,” St. Brown said. “I'm going to give every team hell.”
That includes the Vikings, who host the Lions on Sunday. Minnesota made five picks in the 2021 draft before St. Brown went to Detroit with the 112th overall selection.
“I’m trying to take it up a notch. Everything I did last year, turn it up. More catches. More yards. More everything,” St. Brown said. "More wins for the team.”
The touchdown catch by St. Brown last season served as a microcosm of Minnesota's deteriorated pass defense under Zimmer. The cornerback in coverage on that play was Cameron Dantzler Sr., who backpedaled too deep into the end zone to make it easy for Goff to find his target.
Dantzler was among the many Vikings defenders who were carved up last week in Philadelphia by quarterback Jalen Hurts in the 24-7 loss, and rookie Akayleb Evans took his place for much of the second half opposite veteran Patrick Peterson.
“We gave him a little rest there, but he’ll be back in there ready to go this week,” defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said, confirming Dantzler was supposed to be deeper on the 53-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter when Quez Watkins blew by safety Camryn Bynum to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead.
“The correction has been made," Donatell said. "We trust him, and we know he’ll do fine.”
ONE FOR THE SKIPPER
Five years after his NFL debut, Detroit’s Dan Skipper made his first career start against Washington. He played guard for the first time since he was a freshman at Arkansas, pressed into duty after the Lions lost three starters to injury: Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson and Halapoulivaati Vaitai. The 6-foot-9, 330-pound Skipper was celebrated by teammates and coaches, who chanted “Skip! Skip! Skip!” in the locker room. Skipper was emotional in his postgame news conference.
"I think I’ve had 20 NFL contracts,” he said. “They’re not worth the paper they’re written on, right?”
The Lions have scored a touchdown in 15 straight quarters for the longest such streak in franchise history and the NFL’s longest active run. They have scored at least 35 points in the first two games of a season for the first time since 1970.
The Vikings quickly fell behind in Philadelphia, got out of their play-calling rhythm and had three turnovers in the second half — all interceptions thrown by Kirk Cousins. The only completions to Justin Jefferson were on short routes. Dalvin Cook had a career-low six carries for just 17 yards.
“We’ve got to be better on the field making those plays and just settling the game down. That’s just about being hard on each other, holding each other accountable and just going back to work, man,” Cook said.
WEEK 3 CAPSULE, DETROIT (1-1) AT MINNESOTA (1-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT, Fox
OPENING LINE: Vikings by 5½, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Detroit 2-0; Minnesota 1-1.
SERIES RECORD: Vikings lead 79-40-2.
LAST MEETING: Lions beat Vikings 29-27 on Dec. 5, 2021, in Detroit.
LAST WEEK: Lions beat Commanders 36-27; Vikings lost to Eagles 24-7.
LIONS OFFENSE: OVERALL (4), RUSH (3), PASS (19), SCORING (2).
LIONS DEFENSE: OVERALL (30), RUSH (26), PASS (27), SCORING (31).
VIKINGS OFFENSE: OVERALL (20T), RUSH (21), PASS (13), SCORING (25).
VIKINGS DEFENSE: OVERALL (29), RUSH (24), PASS (29), SCORING (6).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Lions even; Vikings even.
LIONS PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown. He had nine catches for a career-high 116 yards and two TDs along with a 58-yard run — the longest by a Lions WR — against Washington. In his second year, St. Brown is the first player in league history with at least eight catches and a TD in six straight games. St. Brown, Michael Thomas (2019) and Antonio Brown (2014) are the only three players in NFL history with eight-plus receptions in eight straight games.
VIKINGS PLAYER TO WATCH: OLB Danielle Hunter. He has 12 sacks in his past eight games against the Lions with two fumble recoveries and one for a touchdown. Hunter had a sack in each of the first two games this season.
KEY MATCHUP: St. Brown vs. Vikings DBs. St. Brown's first career TD came on the last play of the game last year in Detroit to give Lions coach Dan Campbell his first victory in Week 13. Vikings CB Cameron Dantzler Sr. backpedaled too deep into the end zone to allow an easy 11-yard completion by Jared Goff to St. Brown.
KEY INJURIES: Two Lions starters — C Frank Ragnow (foot), G Jonah Jackson (finger) — missed last week’s game. Ragnow, who's bothered by the same toe he had season-ending surgery on a year ago, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday. Jackson did not practice. ... Lions DE Aidan Hutchinson (quadriceps) and DE John Cominsky (hand) were slowed against Washington. Hutchinson, the second overall pick in the draft, didn't practice Wednesday. Cominsky had surgery Tuesday. ... Vikings S Harrison Smith was in the concussion protocol and didn't practice Wednesday.
SERIES NOTES: Each of the past three matchups have been decided by exactly two points. ... Detroit's win last season stopped an eight-game winning streak in the series by Minnesota. Prior to that, the Lions won nine of 14. ... Vikings QB Kirk Cousins has 19 TDs, two interceptions, a 74.2% completion rate and a 119.9 passer rating in nine career starts against the Lions. His record is 7-2.
STATS AND STUFF: The Lions have scored 35-plus points in three straight games for the first time since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Green Bay and Seattle in 2020 were the previous NFL teams with 35-plus points in the first two games of a season. ... The Lions have rushed for 180-plus yards in two straight games for the first time since 2010. The previous NFC team to do so in the first two games of a season was Atlanta in 2006. ... The Lions had their largest halftime lead (22-0) last week in nearly four years. ... Hutchinson became the first NFL player in 20 years since Tennessee's Carlos Hall to have three sacks over the first two games of a career. ... If St. Brown has a TD catch, he'll set a Lions record with one in seven straight games. ... Cousins is 8-4 at home with Minnesota against NFC North opponents. ... The Vikings have allowed three sacks, tied for the seventh fewest in the league. ... Vikings RB Dalvin Cook had a career-low six carries last week for 17 yards. ... Vikings backup OLB D.J. Wonnum has a sack in three straight games. ... Vikings LB Jordan Hicks is the only player in the NFL with at least 15 tackles, one sack and one interception.
FANTASY TIP: The Vikings have been vulnerable in underneath pass coverage, making Lions TE T.J. Hockenson a viable play. He has two TDs in his past four games versus the Vikings. Eagles TE Dallas Goedert had five receptions for 82 yards last week against Minnesota.