By Will Burchfield
Golden Tate has been found.
After disappearing through the Lions first five games, the veteran wide receiver showed up in a big way on Sunday afternoon, helping Detroit to a 31-28 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Tate hauled in eight catches for 165 yards and a touchdown, including a 61-yard reception that brought the Lions to the 1-yard line and set up their third score of the game. He entered the afternoon with just 17 catches and 134 yards on the season.
“Today was awesome, I was really happy for him,” said Matthew Stafford. “The guy’s been working his tail off the last couple of weeks.”
Throughout his early struggles, Tate said all the right things. He put the team first. He vowed to improve. He expressed optimism. And he was justified on Sunday, proving that he’s still one of the most vaunted weapons in the Lions’ offense.
“I’m kind of a forget-the-past guy. Just keep grinding, just keep working. That’s really all I can do, just show up to work every day and control what I can control,” Tate said. “I can’t control when the ball is going to be thrown to me or what side Stafford’s looking at or what plays are called. But when my number is called, I can control it from then on.”
His number was called often on Sunday, as Tate finished with a game-high ten targets. He got some action in the rushing department as well, looking like the dynamic playmaker that Lions fans have come to know.
“Golden is one of those guys that, with the ball in his hand, he’s pretty tough to handle,” said Jim Caldwell. “He can do it a number of different ways, and (offensive coordinator) Jim Bob Cooter and those guys have been really creative in trying to make certain that he does touch it. Came up with a lot of big ones (today).”
The biggest one, no doubt, was his fourth-quarter touchdown that tied things at 28 with just over six minutes remaining. On 2nd and 13 from the 23-yard line, Matthew Stafford whipped a pass short left to Tate, who was running over the middle. Tate snared it around the 15-yard line, stopped on a dime, reversed course and outran three Rams defenders to the end zone.
In case anyone forgot, it was a reminder of just how lethal he can be after the catch. Few receivers are as elusive as Tate in open space.
“He’s a dangerous runner, so we’ve tried to find ways to get him the ball,” Stafford said.
After the touchdown, his first of the season, Tate blew a kiss to a TV camera and then joined the Lions’ cheerleaders on the sideline, borrowing a pair of blue pompoms and waving them above his head. On a day when he flaunted his vast skillset, he also added to it.
“Oh man, I forgot about that,” he laughed. “I was just going back to the sideline and saw these new cheerleaders and I figured, hey, why not party with them for a little bit?
“It just kind of happened. I was just having fun, having a lot of fun.”
Who could blame him? After enduring a dour first month of the season, Tate had some making-up to do.
“What he did out there – that’s Golden Tate,” said Marvin Jones.
Jones was locked down for most of the game, as the Rams overloaded the coverage on his side of the field. Across the way, Tate made them pay.
“Golden’s an outstanding player and he was a difference in this ball game,” said Rams head coach Jeff Fisher. “I hope they give him the game ball.”
For Tate, Sunday’s performance was a long time coming. By all accounts, he has been nothing but diligent and upbeat in practice, despite the lack of on-field results. He knew there was only one way to turn things around.
“Just kept working at practice, just kept working. Stayed in the playbook, just didn’t listen to what people were saying outside of the locker room and my chance came. All I did was just do my job, that’s all I did,” he said.