We already detailed the Detroit Lions' 49-35 win over the Carolina Panthers, but there's a separate story well worth telling on its own: Running back Kevin Smith, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards for the Lions in his rookie season of 2008 before injuries put his career in jeopardy.
Smith was one of Detroit's few standouts in that horrible 0-16 campaign in '08, but he had to sit back and watch for the most part while a new regime rebuilds the franchise into the playoff contender it is today. Knee and thumb injuries prevented the Lions from tendering him a contract as a restricted free agent in the 2011 offseason, but a rash of injuries to more recent starters such as Jahvid Best and Maurice Morris had the Lions looking up Smith's old number.
Safe to say, they're glad they did. Re-signed by the Lions on Nov. 7 and playing at Ford Field for the first time since he racked up 10 yards on five carries against the New York Jets in November of 2010, Smith scored three touchdowns, rushed for a career-high 140 yards on just 16 attempts, tied a career high with two rushing scores, and added four receptions for 61 yards and another touchdown.
"There's a lot of great stories in the NFL and I'm sure there's a lot of storylines today, but I think the NFL would be hard-pressed to find a better story than Kevin Smith," head coach Jim Schwartz said after the game. "He's a guy that obviously has a lot of talent, but early on in his career was set back with a lot of major injuries. With the lockout this year and short training camps and things like that, it was really a terrible situation for him in trying to come back.
"Credit to Kevin; he never lost faith, he persevered. His talent never went away and when he was able to get healthy and get another opportunity, he took advantage of it. I think it's a great story. He looks a little different in that No. 30, but we'll keep that on him for awhile."
For Smith, the transition was obviously about more than just a change in jersey number — it was about staying busy and awaiting his next chance in the NFL. "It's not really tough if that's your will. 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.
"It 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."
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw five touchdowns in the game to five different receivers and really started to get going himself when Smith began making big gains in the second quarter, was almost as happy for Smith as Smith was for himself.
"I mean, the guy was running the ball against bad boxes. It wasn't like we were getting cover-two the whole game and he was gashing them. We were getting man coverage — eight guys, seven, eight guys in the box. Our O-line did a great job too, giving them one free hitter and he was making a miss — and that's what you're supposed to do in the NFL and he did a nice job today.
"I think he's fresh and he's healthy," Stafford said. "You know, he's been working out, he's obviously in great shape and you know, for the first time that I played with him, he's 100 percent healthy. I haven't been here for every year that he's been here, but the two years that I had with him, he was fighting injuries the whole time.
"He's doing a great job for us right now."