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What former Utes great and Detroit QB Scott Mitchell thinks about Lions’ postseason run

Detroit Lions coach Wayne Fontes helps his new starting quarterback, Scott Mitchell, show off his jersey to reporters at the Pontiac, Mich., Silverdome Monday, March 7, l994. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback starred at Springville High School and the University of Utah.

When the Detroit Lions made the trade with the Miami Dolphins in 1994 to secure former University of Utah quarterback Scott Mitchell, they did it with playoff victories in mind. As bad as Mitchell wanted to deliver them, he went 0-2.

“I can’t get over Jared Goff. Having played in Detroit as the quarterback, I took a lot of heat and here comes a guy who was a castoff from his former team. He’s been so good. It’s really exciting for me and it has meant a lot to me to see him win.” — former Utah and Detroit Lions QB Scott Mitchell

Fast-forward to 2021, the Lions acquired Jared Goff in a trade with the Rams with the same goal in mind. After Lions playoff victories this month against the Rams and Buccaneers, Goff has Detroit in Sunday’s NFC championship game at San Francisco — and Mitchell couldn’t be happier for him.

“I can’t get over Jared Goff,” Mitchell said. “Having played in Detroit as the quarterback, I took a lot of heat and here comes a guy who was a castoff from his former team. He’s been so good. It’s really exciting for me and it has meant a lot to me to see him win.”

Mitchell led the Lions into the playoffs in 1995 and 1997, but Detroit failed to get out of the wild card round, losing to the Eagles 58-37 and the Buccaneers 20-10.

“In ’95 we were on fire,” he said. “I thought we were playing the best football in the NFL and then you just have a week where a guy gets hurt, there are a couple of turnovers and the (Eagles) hit on a Hail Mary pass before halftime. Winning is just really hard. You need to have things line up in a perfect way.”

Eye-opening start

Coming from Utah, where Mitchell threw for 8,981 yards and 69 touchdowns, the Dolphins selected him in the fourth round of the 1990 NFL draft to back up future Hall of Famer Dan Marino.

“When I first got to the NFL, I thought there was no way I am going to make it here,” Mitchell said. “Watching Marino in practice, I thought, I can’t do that. It was all so fast. You can get away with a lot of things in college. But in the NFL, you have a millisecond to process what’s going on. What you see before the snap is not what happens after the snap. It requires a last-second ability to make a decision and execute it.”

Mitchell’s game evolved and over a 12-year career, including five seasons in Detroit, he passed for 15,692 yards and 95 touchdowns. The Springville, Utah, native and color analyst for Utah Utes football broadcasts with Bill Riley, is now relegated to being an armchair quarterback like everybody else, and he’s all-in on Goff.

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“(Goff) won over the folks in Detroit,” Mitchell said. “But for the city and the state, those fans are so passionate and so loyal and starving for success, I don’t know if winning the Super Bowl right now would be a bigger deal than the fact that they won two playoff games.”

Mitchell’s prediction

Not only does San Francisco have home-field advantage, but the 49ers also boast the highest-rated defense heading into championship weekend, led by former BYU star Fred Warner.

“With the Lions, they have done such a good job scoring touchdowns, and that’s tough to do against the 49ers,” he said. “The Lions probably have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and it’s a good matchup with the front line of San Francisco. If they can pass protect, Goff could have a good day.”

San Francisco squeaked past Green Bay 24-21 to reach Sunday’s NFC finale. Running back Christian McCaffrey scored two touchdowns and tight end George Kittle caught a touchdown pass in the victory.

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“The Lions have to get pressure on (49ers quarterback) Brock Purdy. They need to make him hold the ball longer,” Mitchell said. “So much of what Purdy does is he gets the ball out quickly to his skill players and they go make plays.”

Pressure on Purdy and overall pressure from the super-sized moment could also be a factor and Mitchell believes that could favor the long shots from Detroit.

“I don’t think there is any pressure on the Lions or on Goff,” he said. “They have so far exceeded everybody’s expectations. They can come in and play with reckless abandon. The closer the game is and the longer it goes, the pressure will be felt much more on San Francisco.”

Mitchell’s pick: 49ers 31, Lions 27.

Detroit Lions QB Jared Goff celebrates after defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff celebrates after defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. The Lions face San Francisco in the NFC conference championship game Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif. | Rick Osentoski, Associated Press

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at deseretbook.com.