Detroit Lions return man Jamal Agnew’s 2018 season was a disaster, and it looked for a minute like his 2019 season might be worse.
But after a rough start to the year, including a muffed punt in the season’s first game, an ankle injury that kept him out three weeks and a brief benching, Agnew is set to close his third NFL season with a bang.
Agnew scored his second return touchdown of the season last week against the Denver Broncos and he heads into Sunday’s season finale against the Green Bay Packers as one of two qualifying players who rank in the top 10 in both kick- and punt-return average.
Lions cornerback Jamal Agnew returns a kickoff for a touchdown during the first quarter on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Philadelphia.
Lions cornerback Jamal Agnew returns a kickoff for a touchdown during the first quarter on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Philadelphia. (Photo: Eric Hartline USA TODAY Sports)
“It’s definitely nice just because I haven’t had many opportunities this year,” Agnew said. “A lot of teams have been either kicking it out the end zone or trying to force fair catches. But I’m just grateful for that opportunity. I knew they don’t come in bunches, but just to take advantage of that and help the team try to get a win. I’m just happy to do that.”
[ Agnew rebounds from ‘rough 2 weeks’ with 100-yard kickoff TD return vs. Eagles ]
Agnew was one of the most electric return men in the NFL as a rookie in 2017, when he returned two punts for touchdowns and led the league with a 15.4-yard average on punt returns.
Last year, he missed 10 games with a knee injury and was only mildly effective when he was on the field, averaging a paltry 4.8 yards per punt return.
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Agnew won an open competition for both return jobs this year, but he muffed a punt in the Lions’ season-opening tie with the Arizona Cardinals and fumbled away another punt in a Week 2 win over the Los Angeles Chargers only to have that turnover nullified by offsetting penalties.
The Lions took Agnew off their return team during the Chargers game, but went back to him a week later and were rewarded when he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
In last week’s loss to the Broncos, Agnew scored on a 64-yard return, the seventh longest in the NFL this year, and he played four decoy snaps at receiver as the Lions tried to jumpstart their sputtering offense.
Lions cornerback Jamal Agnew catches the ball before running back a 100-yard touchdown return during the first quarter on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Philadelphia.
Lions cornerback Jamal Agnew catches the ball before running back a 100-yard touchdown return during the first quarter on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Philadelphia. (Photo: Bill Streicher USA TODAY Sports)
“Everybody blocked (the touchdown) pretty well,” Agnew said. “He was doing the end-over-end Aussie kick. I think he was trying to force a fair catch. But the jammers on the right side held up real good, so I knew I had room, so I caught it and just let my feet do the rest, honestly.”
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The Packers didn’t give Agnew much of a chance to return punts in their October meeting, and given the Lions’ offensive struggles it’d be a surprise if they kicked to him Sunday.
But after Agnew’s early-season ups and downs, Lions coach Matt Patricia said Friday he was happy to see his return man finish on a high note.
“Obviously, I think he’s a dynamic player. He can turn any play into a big play at any time,” Patricia said. “So it’s good to see him out there. I think he gives a great charge to the team and we all know he can make those big plays, so we’re excited when he’s out there, and I think that encourages and lifts everybody up to do their job a little bit better in those situations. It’d be great to get another, obviously, big play out of him this weekend.”
Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson will miss his third straight game Sunday with a shoulder injury. The Lions listed five players as questionable: Right tackle Rick Wagner (knee), linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring), kicker Matt Prater (illness), linebacker Steve Longa (quad) and safety Tavon Wilson (hamstring). … The Lions promoted linebacker Anthony Pittman from the practice squad to fill the roster spot that came open when they put Jahlani Tavai on injured reserve earlier this week. … According to ESPN, the Lions did a simple restructure on Matthew Stafford’s contract, converting a $6 million roster bonus he was due in March to a signing bonus. The move allows the Lions to prorate that cap hit over the life of the contract. ESPN reported the deal saves the Lions $4.8 million in cap room next season, which means the Lions added a voidable year to the end of the deal.