"This was sweet, really special," said Bommarito, who in more than a decade as a trainer has helped hundreds of professional athletes progress through their careers. Few players have touched his heart as much as Smith.
"I'm still looking at the replays and screaming at the television," Bommarito said. "For a trainer, this was like the Super Bowl."
The question now is whether Smith, who rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns and caught four passes for 61 yards and another score in the 49-35 win over the Carolina Panthers, can help dethrone the defending Super Bowl champions on Thursday when the Lions (7-3) host the 10-0 Green Bay Packers.
Before we get there, allow Bommarito and, more importantly, Smith to enjoy the moment. This was a long time coming for Smith, who went from promising third-round pick in 2008 to out of work for the first nine weeks this season. Smith was signed two weeks ago, got his feet wet with four carries for 19 yards in his first game and then did the equivalent of a dive off the high board Sunday.
This is what the Lions had hoped Smith would become when they made him a starter in 2008. Smith was OK, combining for 1,262 yards. In 2009, however, Smith was decreasingly mediocre, averaging 3.4 yards per carry and then seeing his season end with an ACL tear in his right knee. By 2010, the Lions were using a first-round pick on running back Jahvid Best(notes) and Smith was a backup. Throw in a thumb injury and Smith was down to six games played and didn't get tendered a contract as a restricted free agent before the lockout.
When the lockout ended, Smith was healthy but didn't draw any interest. It turned out many veterans were out in the cold because there was no offseason for them to work with teams and prove their value over rookies.
Smith tried to keep all of that out of his mind.
"It's not really tough if that's your will," Smith said after Sunday's game. "You know, I've always believed in myself and my ability and I've had some tough breaks injury-wise, but I believe in myself. When I was getting up and going to train, you know, I kissed my son and walked out the door.
"[Proving teams wrong] really was no motivation. There was nobody to say, 'Come on, a team's going to come calling,' so it just took me to keep on going five days a week. Go to some workouts and I can get a job and it's a blessing that the organization gave me another opportunity."
That's the polite approach, fitting of Smith's temperament. The reality is that he kept going to workouts with Bommarito five days a week during the offseason, after the lockout, during training camp when his friends and teammates were working and even after the regular season started.
"It was so frustrating to watch one guy after another get a chance when we know there's no question you're better than a lot of other guys," Bommarito said. "I just kept telling him, it's a matter of time, just a matter of time. But I know it was hard for him to watch and wait. It was hard for me to watch and wait."
Smith had three or four workouts before the Lions, desperate to fill the holes created by injuries to Best and rookie Mikel LeShoure(notes) (a second-round pick), finally called Smith. The intriguing part of Smith's return was when he ran a 4.48 40-yard dash two weeks ago, according to Bommarito. That was faster than what Smith ran when he was coming out for the NFL draft.
Now, armed with Smith's running ability, Detroit is hoping to take advantage of some of the perceived weaknesses in Green Bay's defense, shortcomings routinely covered up by quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes) and the offense. A win for the Lions would give them a huge boost in their playoff hunt.
"This guy has worked so hard and the really hard part is that we've been working to keep him in football shape, not combine shape," Bommarito said. "When you train for the combine, you just push yourself to max out your test results. Football shape is different … but he worked so hard that he made himself faster in the process."
Bommarito then repeated the admission that all honest trainers know: Trainers are only as good as the people with whom they work. Bommarito has worked with the likes of LeSean McCoy(notes), Wes Welker(notes) and Maurice Jones-Drew(notes). On Sunday, it was Smith who made Bommarito scream at his TV set.
Smith did it. He did all of it.
Here are the winners and losers for Week 11:
• Interesting day for Chicago Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox(notes), who caught three passes for 97 yards in the win over the San Diego Chargers. Two of the catches were a sweet 24-yard touchdown grab (his first of the season) in which he made a great adjustment to the throw and a 42-yarder against solid coverage by Antoine Cason(notes). The lone blemish was falling down on a pass route, which allowed Cason to get an interception. Knox is one of these interesting players who looks like he could be among the premier deep threats in the game (he has averaged more than 18 yards a catch since the beginning of the 2010 season). The 2009 fifth-round pick has great potential, but he has only 75 catches in the past 26 games. Obviously, part of the problem is Chicago's inconsistent pass protection, but when a guy is this productive, don't you have to find a way to get him the ball more? However, if reports are true that quarterback Jay Cutler(notes) has suffered a broken thumb, the odds of that happening don't look so good.
• Give quarterback Matt Moore(notes) credit for impressive work during the Miami Dolphins' three-game winning streak following a victory over the reeling Buffalo Bills. Over that stretch, Moore has completed 51 of 72 passes (70.8 percent) for 613 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. He's averaging an impressive 8.5 yards per attempt. Let's hope the Dolphins don't get the idea based on that production that Moore has a chance to be a starter long-term. If you look back at 2009, Moore did the same thing while playing for Carolina after Jake Delhomme(notes) was pushed out of the lineup. Moore came back in 2010 with the Panthers and was terrible.
• While on the Dolphins, who haven't rated much mention in this section all season, give some props to running back Reggie Bush(notes). He has scored four touchdowns in the past three games, the second-best scoring run of his six-year career. He had five over a two-game run in 2006, his rookie year.
• Two weeks ago, Oakland fans weren't terribly happy with the early returns on the expensive trade for quarterback Carson Palmer(notes). That was after back-to-back three-interception outings in consecutive home losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos. However, Palmer has been terrific the past two games and was especially efficient in the performance against the Minnesota Vikings, marking two straight road wins for the AFC West-leading Raiders. Aside from the simple results, the most promising news for the Raiders and their fans is that Palmer looks like he has his full arm strength after three years of somewhat erratic throwing. Palmer showed great zip on several throws during an explosive second quarter when Oakland took control of the game with three touchdowns. Overall, Palmer's numbers were OK (164 yards), but he has completed 31 of 43 passes over the past two games. Very nice work. Coach Hue Jackson's gamble looks like it will pay off.
• Washington Redskins wide receiver Donté Stallworth has had one of the saddest, strangest careers that you could imagine, complete with a prison stay after the horrific drunk-driving accident that left a man dead in Miami. Stallworth is no angel, but anybody who has met him more than a couple of times knows he's not the personification of evil. Stallworth is a good-hearted person who has made his share of mistakes. Whether he has paid enough for those mistakes is a matter of opinion, but it's nice to see him have a positive moment Sunday with his game-tying catch against the Dallas Cowboys late in regulation. His four grabs Sunday nearly matched his 2011 total (five) coming into the game.
• Just up the beltway in Baltimore, it was a big day for rookies named Smith. Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith(notes) had another big game, catching six passes for 165 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown in the win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He might have had more yards if not for being tackled by the hair on a play by Bengals cornerback Pacman Jones. Then there was Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith(notes), who had the first interception of his career. Smith had missed four games this season because of injury, but looked sharp in coverage all day on Sunday. His interception, which was fumbled but recovered by a teammate, eventually set up a key touchdown.
• What kind of odds would you have gotten if you had bet that the two quarterbacks taken in the 2005 NFL draft (Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers) would be a combined 19-1 through this point of the season? Sure, the fact that Green Bay is 10-0 with Rodgers is impressive, but not shocking. But Smith at 9-1? Seriously? While the 49ers continue to win mostly on the strength of their defense (and it's obvious that's a serious defense), Smith has certainly made more than his share of plays, including three critical throws in Sunday's win over the Arizona Cardinals.
• The NFL heads the list as its absurdly poor definition of a catch reared its ugly head in Baltimore. The fourth-quarter play by tight end Jermaine Gresham(notes) that was initially called a touchdown but overturned in review is a catch. Anyone with common sense knows that and the NFL has to find some way to make sure the rule negating receptions like this gets changed. This play had a huge impact on the rest of the game. If the Bengals had scored a touchdown at that point, it would have changed how the end of the game was played (the Bengals could have kicked a field goal on fourth down rather than being forced to go for it). There is no question that this rule has caused too much confusion. Bottom line: There is a difference between a player losing control of the ball and a player using the ball to brace himself from a fall as if it was an extension of his hand.
• On the subject of the Bengals, rookie quarterback Andy Dalton(notes) again deserves credit for keeping Cincy competitive, even without cornerback Leon Hall(notes) and star rookie wide receiver A.J. Green(notes). Dalton completed 24 of 45 for 373 yards, one touchdown and the aforementioned near-touchdown. However, you can't gloss over three interceptions Dalton threw, including one that set up two Baltimore touchdowns, including one in the fourth quarter. Dalton continues to look like he's going to be great, but there are still moments when he is what he is, a rookie.
[ Related: Bengals WR Jerome Simpson has special hands ]
• Likewise, it's hard to get on Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton(notes), who again had some great moments. He rushed for two touchdowns to give him an NFL rookie quarterback record of nine and get within striking distance of the NFL record 12 that New England's Steve Grogan scored in 1976 (comparing Grogan to Newton in terms of running ability is amusing). Newton also had some great throws, such as the 15-yard touchdown he tossed in the first half, a great throw against a seven-man blitz for a first down in the second half and a 2-point conversion throw to tie the score 35-35 after his second TD run. All the throws went to wide receiver Steve Smith, who was electric himself. All of that said, Newton had four interceptions and now has more picks (14) than touchdowns (12) on the season. Three of the interceptions came on Carolina's last five possessions Sunday, including each of the final two.
• Nobody is going to surpass Tony Sparano of Miami or Jack Del Rio of Jacksonville anytime soon on the list of coaches who are on the hot seat. That said, five losses in a row for San Diego have put Norv Turner in the top five. While my colleague Michael Silver may disagree, Turner doesn't have any obvious excuses this season for why his team has dropped five straight. Yeah, the offensive line is banged up, but in the weak AFC West, the Chargers still should be winning this division, particularly when it had the best quarterback (Philip Rivers(notes)) in the division coming into the season. As I have noted on many occasions, Turner is a great play-caller. As a leader of men, not so much.
• Quick question for Buffalo fans: What the heck happened to safety Jairus Byrd(notes)? He had nine interceptions as a rookie in 2009. Even after getting only one last season, Byrd still looked like an impressive, rangy coverage guy. On Sunday, he was lost and made Miami's Charles Clay(notes) look like a budding star. Then again, the Bills' defense over the past three games has been atrocious. The Bills have allowed quarterbacks Matt Moore, Mark Sanchez(notes) and Tony Romo(notes) to complete 57 of 74 passes for 660 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception over the past three weeks.
• The combination of Tampa Bay cornerbacks E.J. Biggers(notes) and Aqib Talib(notes) had a rough day against Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers. No shame in that, but you have to put up a little more fight in coverage. Each of them was burned for a touchdown by wide receiver Jordy Nelson(notes). Nelson is good, but Biggers and Talib covered him as if he was radioactive.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Loved: Sadly, this play was called back (correctly) after review, but Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware(notes) made a great display of hustle on what was originally called a fumble return to Washington's 1-yard line by safety Barry Church(notes). Ware did a great job of running down field to throw a block on Church's 29-yard run.
Loathed: Cincinnati's Gresham is a terrific athlete and a great-looking young player, but what's up with the white "high socks" look? Gresham had a combination of tape and socks from his toes all the way up to just below the knee. I hadn't noticed if he has done this before. Regardless, he should never do it again, particularly if nobody else on the Bengals is going to join him.
Loved: Watching Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers float a 26-yard pass down the left sideline for wide receiver Jordy Nelson over cornerback E.J. Biggers. Is there anything Rodgers can't do? Quick release, rifle arm, run, scramble, throw touch passes … I've said it already so many times, Rodgers is playing at a level that is unreal for such an extended time. As for Nelson, he had a nice first half against Tampa Bay with five catches for 83 yards and one touchdown. He added another grab late in the fourth quarter that went for a 40-yard touchdown.
Loathed: The Tim Tebow(notes) story gets better and better, even if his stats continue to be below average in every sense except wins and losses. However, when Hall of Famer Michael Irvin offers such gems as, "I believe Tebow can get this team to a Super Bowl," you really have to wonder if he's watching the games. Tebow is a good story, but Irvin is doing the kid a disservice by ratcheting expectations.
Loathed: The 54-yard touchdown run by Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount(notes) in the first half. Nothing against Blount, but it's ridiculous that seven Green Bay defensive players missed him along the way. If anything is going to hurt the Packers, it's the fact that the defense has some horrible moments. If that happens on a day when Rodgers is slightly off, it's going to add up to a loss.
Loved: Seeing how alert Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier was to call a quick timeout to help the officials correct a mistake, pointing out in the first half that it was third-and-8 instead of fourth down. Some coaches let the mistake happen and then complain. Frazier was on top of it. Sadly, his team isn't on top of the rest of its game, adding up to a fourth loss in five tries.
Loathed: The Raiders are playing good football overall, but getting penalized for three personal fouls on one drive is unacceptable. Even though the Raiders ended up dominating the first half, those three penalties set up an easy touchdown for the Vikings. While Hue Jackson has done a lot of things, he's a long way from fixing the culture of sloppiness that has shrouded the team since 2003. The Raiders came into the game with 100 more penalties than any other team in that span.
Loved: Seeing Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew do the LeBron James "chalk toss" after scoring a touchdown in Cleveland. Not sure if Jones-Drew was mocking the Cleveland fans, James or both, but it was pretty funny. Good stuff from a clever guy.
Loathed: Watching Dallas coach Jason Garrett not use his final two timeouts on Washington's last possession of regulation after the Redskins got into a first-and-goal situation. Instead of preserving time for a possible game-winning drive in regulation, Garrett let the clock run down (it went from 1:06 to 34 seconds before the Redskins called timeout). Some would say that Garrett was trying to let time run out, but that's not the case. Washington had two timeouts left after getting to the 2-yard line, so Garrett couldn't run out the clock. It was simply a matter of whether the Redskins were going to score a tying touchdown. Garrett could have played much more aggressive in this situation.
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