Nate Burleson, Titus Young May Save the Detroit Lions

Dean HoldenAnalyst IOctober 28, 2012

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 20: Nate Burleson #13 scores on a 16 yard pass from Matthew Stafford #9 and celebrates with teammate Titus Young #16 during the game against the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field on November 20, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions defeated the Panthers 49-35. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

It's hard not to love Nate Burleson.

By all accounts, he's a great teammate, he's great on camera and he's hilarious when he gets into the end zone. Any Lions fan—even any football fan—should lament his season-ending injury.

So I'm not trying to say, at all, that it's a good thing Burleson got injured. It's not.

What I am saying is that maybe it was past time for Burleson to give up some of his snaps. The moment Burleson left with injury, Titus Young and Ryan Broyles came into the game and started catching footballs.

Maybe that has more to do with the young players, who felt more responsible and more driven with their veteran leader out of the game.

Maybe it has more to do with Matthew Stafford, who seems to have become more accurate and controlled in the last game-and-a-half.

But it definitely has a lot to do with Nate Burleson's injury, plain and simple. At the very least, you have to admit there's a strong correlation.

Mind you, I'm not blaming Burleson for hampering the Lions' offense. That would be silly. If anything, I'm crediting him.

Burleson is so respected in the Lions' locker room, there's no way his injury didn't start some fires. And if those fires didn't start upon hearing of his injury, you can bet Burleson went in and started them himself.

Titus Young's first career 100-yard game is a testament to the talent we've all expected to turn into production on the field. But the fact that he came up huge in Burleson's first game out of the lineup is a testament to Burleson's influence on that locker room.

I know there are going to be a lot of people who look at Young's huge game and point to it as proof that Burleson is finished and shouldn't even bother returning to the Lions' lineup next season.

If Young (and/or Broyles) continues playing like this, there's no doubt Burleson's role will be diminished next season, but it can't be overstated how important Burleson's impact is on the team.

That the Lions lost Burleson for the year and played their most settled game of the season would seem to indicate that they're using the loss of their emotional leader as a rallying cry.

It's sad that it took a broken leg to get the Lions to focus for four quarters (and that they still only won by four), but it should at least prove that Burleson is an important figure in that locker room, even if Young is now more important on the field.

The question now is whether Young and the Lions maintain the play they showed against Seattle's strong defense, or if this is an overreaction and Young's game an aberration.

But if this game is any indication of what Young will be capable of in the Lions' offense, it's a good sign for the Lions this season and beyond.

Young caught nine passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns (including the game-winner) in a game where Calvin Johnson was limited to three catches for 46 yards.

This is what the Lions have been looking for all year: Someone to take over the game when Calvin Johnson can't. If they can keep doing that, the Lions will be a different team in the second half of the season.

If that happens, take a moment to tip your cap to Nate Burleson for mentoring the Lions' young receivers on the field and inspiring them after leaving it.