Vikings face underrated tight end challenge

The Lions are known for Calvin Johnson and even rookie Jahvid Best on offense, but TE Brandon Pettigrew is one of the best in the league. Despite his impressive statistics, he isn't surprised he didn't make the Pro Bowl. Plus, get other updates from the Vikings' opponent on Sunday.

Should Brandon Pettigrew be at least in the conversation when the talk turns to elite tight ends in the NFL?

He is the third-leading receiver among tight ends in the NFL and he has had the most productive season of any tight end in Lions history, surpassing the marks set by Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders.

Yet, he wasn't even among the top five in the NFC Pro Bowl selection process. Dallas's Jason Witten and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez will represent the conference in Honolulu. San Francisco's Vernon Davis, Washington's Chris Cooley and New Orleans' Jeremy Shockey were all on the list before Pettigrew.

Pettigrew would be the first to tell you, that's as it should be — for now.

"Those guys make big-time plays and big-time catches and there were opportunities that I had this year when I didn't do that," he said. "I have to do that to set myself apart. I am just at the beginning, and there are a lot more goals to be reached. There's a lot more I can do."

Locally, Pettigrew has gotten more publicity this season for his eight drops, which according to STATS, LLC are fifth most in the league, than for his record 68 catches for 703 yards.

There is still considerable debate among fans as to whether the Lions would have been better served using the 20th overall pick in 2009 on linebacker Rey Maualuga (Bengals) or offensive tackle Michael Oher (Ravens) instead of Pettigrew.

It is doubtful, however, that general manager Martin Mayhew or coach Jim Schwartz has any regrets.

"We don't have to defend him here," Schwartz said. "We are only scratching surface with Brandon Pettigrew and what he can do. He's on track to have an outstanding career."

In many ways, Pettigrew's production has far surpassed what the Lions were counting on. This is a guy who blew out his knee on Thanksgiving Day 2009 and had major knee surgery in January. The Lions did not expect to get a full season out of him, let alone the most productive season for a tight end in team history.

"People say players aren't the same until the second year after an ACL surgery," Schwartz said. "They usually have to miss training camp and things like that, but he's been very productive for us."

He caught seven passes for 108 yards against Philadelphia in Week 2. How about that for a signal that the knee injury was behind him?

"They (coaches and medical staff) didn't want to rush me," Pettigrew said. "They wanted me to take my time. But I was pushing myself. I had Kevin (Smith, who also came back from ACL surgery) there with me, and we kind of pushed each other. They weren't sure I'd be at training camp but I felt I was ready. I stepped in, took it slow for a while and then I was back."

Those who downplay Pettigrew's accomplishments will point out that 36 of his 68 receptions have been for 7 yards or fewer. But if you want to talk about his impact on games, here's the statistic: 33 of his 68 catches have gotten the Lions a first down.

"I am hopeful of being a big-time player, a great player," he said. "Those other guys (Gonzalez and Witten) already have their names out there. I am coming off knee surgery. I think I did well, but of course I am going to be critical of myself. I could've done a lot better as far as getting myself out there, making more plays and getting on the kind of roll those other guys have been on.

"It's going to happen if I keep making plays."

SERIES HISTORY: 99th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 66-30-2. Detroit is 18-30-1 at home. The Lions have lost six straight dating to Sept. 16, 2007. Again, most of the recent memories for the Lions in this series have been nightmarish. The closest the 0-16 Lions came to winning a game in 2008 came against the Vikings, but the effort was thwarted when QB Dan Orlovsky inexplicably ran out of the back of the end zone, giving Minnesota a safety. The Lions lost by two. In 2004, the Lions missed a chance to send the game into overtime when Don Muhlbach's snap on a point-after was errant.

NOTES

  • C Dominic Raiola told reporters that he was fined $15,000 for his obscene remark to fans as he was leaving the field last Sunday. Although he didn't exactly apologize for his actions — he said players shouldn't have to take that kind of verbal abuse from fans — he did accept his punishment.

    "I am going to be 32 years old (Thursday)," he said. "I can't say that I am going to grow up from it, but I will learn from it."

    When told he's been described as a hothead, he said, "I am a hothead, but I think I am a controlled hothead. When I think of a hothead, it's a guy taking dumb penalties, being undisciplined or getting in trouble off the field. I don't do any of that. I play with passion, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

  • The Lions will have two starters in the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2005, and it will be the first time they've been represented at all since 2007. Both DT Ndamukong Suh and WR Calvin Johnson were selected. "It's a tremendous honor, obviously, being a rookie and getting my feet wet in the NFL," Suh said. "I can't expect anything more, and it's truly a blessing and something that I'm definitely elated about." Suh is the first Lions rookie to be named since Barry Sanders in 1990 and the team's first defensive rookie since Bubba Baker in 1979.

  • As for Johnson, he is the first receiver to start in the Pro Bowl in a year when he had three different quarterbacks throwing to him since 1998, when Jimmy Smith did it.

    "People don't realize that every one of us throws totally different," QB Shaun Hill said. "Balls come out different, they spin different, there's different velocity; that's tough on receivers. The timing is different. Calvin having the year he's had, it just makes it that much more impressive."

    Hill, Drew Stanton and Matthew Stafford have all contributed to Johnson's 77 receptions this season. That is one shy of his career best. He has also matched his career-high with 12 touchdowns, and his 1,120 yards are 191 short of his career best.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 12 — Special teams takeaways since 2008, the most in the NFL in that span.

    703 — Receiving yards by TE Brandon Pettigrew, making him the only Lions tight end to pass 700 in a season.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's like when you're a kid, and you do something wrong, and you get beat up for it, you know, your dad beats you up. I got beat up." — C Dominic Raiola, on being fined $15,000 by the team for his obscene remark to fans Sunday.


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