D'Andre Swift: "I needed this." And the Lions need him.


We've been here before, as recently as two years ago with Kerryon Johnson. And maybe that sentence bears repeating before we go any further. But if the Lions go any further this season, their rookie running back will be a big reason why.

D'Andre Swift's first run on Sunday went for five yards. His second went for 11. His third went for 16 after he hurdled a 6'0 safety, and Detroit's very next play was a 55-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Hall. In the first start of his career, Swift triggered the Lions' best start of the season.

Swift's first catch on Sunday went for 26 yards. A screen pass with the offense backed up, it was a snapshot of speed. His second went for 15 yards and a touchdown a few plays later. A short pass over the middle, this was a snapshot of quickness. It was also a crime against Washington linebacker Jon Bostic, who's still searching for his own whereabouts somewhere within Ford Feld.

Swift's coming-out party was four weeks ago in Jacksonville. His performance Sunday was more like a coronation, as far as Detroit's backfield is concerned. Swift has officially usurped Johnson and Adrian Peterson, and honestly it shouldn't have taken so long. Every time he touches the ball he puts the defense on its heels -- and puts his teammates on notice.

"The dude is a crazy playmaker," said Marvin Jones. "We’ve known that ever since he’s been here and he touched the ground. When the ball is in his hands, even with somebody like me, I have to keep blocking because you know somehow he’s going to come out of it by making a move, or running somebody over, or jumping over somebody.

"He’s electric and he’s great to watch, but I have to do less watching and more blocking. You never know.”

So maybe this is somewhere we haven't been, and we say that with caution. We say that knowing Swift's two best games this season have come against the Lions' two worst opponents. We say that knowing we've probably said it before, if not about Johnson then surely about someone else: Ameer Abdullah, Mikel Leshoure, Jahvid Best.

We say it anyway, because Swift looks more complete than all of them. He's shifty like Johnson, smooth like Abdullah, strong like Leshoure, sudden like Best. We'd say he's swift like Swift, expect that doesn't really describe the way he churns his legs and pumps his arms. It's too much like the wind. A swift runner wouldn't have barreled over Washington CB Jimmy Moreland to get in the end zone to stake the Lions to a 24-3 lead. A lesser receiver wouldn't have been so open in the first place.

This is what the Lions saw in Swift at Georgia before they selected him with their second pick of the draft. This is what they saw in training camp when he was torching their linebackers in 1-on-1's. It's almost exactly what they saw on that fateful play in his NFL debut, right until he dropped the pass that hit him right in the hands. It's what everyone could get used to seeing for a while.

"I think I needed this kind of performance," Swift said. "Going back to my first NFL game, dropped the winning touchdown. So just making sure that when I’m out there and I’m in that type of situation and my number’s called to catch the ball, that I do that. It was a big game for me."

A big game for the Lions, too, who are hanging around this playoff race with more cushy matchups coming. And an even bigger game for Matt Patricia, who likely wouldn't have survived what was nearly a catastrophic loss. In a game he knew he needed, Patricia leaned hard on the running back the Lions have needed for a while.

"We had some space plays that I thought were really good and we were able to get Swift in some space and allow him to run," Patricia said. "I thought he ran really hard. That was a great thing for us to see, just the physicality of what he was doing, breaking some tackles. And just very smart and aware of some of the situations that we had."

Detroit spent the first half of the season force-feeding Adrian Peterson. The Hall-of-Famer looked a little older each week. Finally, in the first game of the second half, they switched definitively to Swift, who set season-highs on Sunday with 16 carries and 21 touches. The Lions are now 3-1 when he gets more than 10 touches, which makes them 1-4 when he gets 10 or less. It's time to put the latter trend to rest.

“He’s done a great job continuing to build upon his repertoire of packages that he’s in, and expanding on that," Patricia said.

It will be interesting to see where the Lions go from here. Patricia and Bob Quinn are sworn to the running-back-by-committee approach they learned in New England. It's why they spent two second-round picks on Johnson and Swift in a span of three years, and it's why they signed Peterson before the start of this season. They want fresh legs and different looks.

But here's the thing: Swift gives them both. He was used sparingly in college for a player of his caliber, and his stocky frame is built for a heavy load. He's a threat between the tackles and around the edge, he's a weapon in the slot and out of the backfield. He can do everything the modern running back is asked to do, even if the modern running back isn't asked to do enough.

"I know he had a bunch of fun out there running around and making plays," said Matthew Stafford.

That's what Swift is, a cyclone of energy, a bouncy ball and a bowling ball at the same time. He'll jump around defenders or run through them, he'll jump over them or run by them. Swift will keep doing what he did on Sunday if the Lions give him the chance, and he just might give the Lions and their coach a chance to do something more.