One of the NFL’s most experienced players decided to call it a career on Monday: Josh McCown, whose career began as a third-round draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 2002, announced his retirement from pro football after sixteen seasons in the league — spent on ten different teams. One of those teams are the Detroit Lions, who signed McCown as a free agent in 2006 and after his rookie deal with the Cardinals had expired.
McCown’s success in Detroit was rather limited: as the backup quarterback behind Jon Kitna, he appeared in only two games during his lone season with the club. But while McCown did not attempt a single pass, he did show up on the stat sheet with the following numbers:
Passing targets: 2
Pass receptions: 2
Receiving yards: 15
McCown caught three passes over the course of his NFL career, and two of them came in the same year. In fact, they came in the same game: a week thirteen regular season contest against the New England Patriots. As usual, Kitna started and finished the game as the Lions’ quarterback. The team of first-year head coach Rod Marinelli and veteran offensive coordinator Mike Martz had a trick up its collective sleeve regarding its second-string passer, however.
In the third quarter, Josh McCown entered the contest at wide receiver — just his second in-game appearance of the season. At first, he did not do much. Seven snaps after first stepping onto the field, however, Kitna found him for an 8-yard gain on a 2nd and 10. The catch would remain the longest of McCown’s career (and in fact his first to go for positive yardage following a -5-yard reception when still with the Cardinals). Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel was credited with the tackle.
Two plays after the reception, the Lions tied the game at 13. They eventually took an eight point lead thanks to two field goals and a safety, but the Patriots — who saw Corey Dillon rush for three touchdowns that day — tied the game in the fourth quarter. New England’s deficit, however, could have been even bigger had McCown not gotten flagged for offensive pass interference on what would have been a 31-yard catch late in the third period.
The Patriots eventually went up 28-21 with under three minutes left in the game. Once more, backup quarterback McCown was inserted into the lineup. And once more, he delivered: on the second play of a potentially game-tying drive, he caught a 7-yard pass. McCown actually eluded Vrabel to gain more yards before being brought down by Tedy Bruschi and James Sanders. The catch would remain the last of McCown’s career.
On the very next play after his 7-yard reception, Kitna threw an interception to Mike Vrabel. For Kitna, McCown and the Lions it was the final play of their tenth loss of what would eventually turn out to be a 3-13 season. For Vrabel, on the other hand, it was the perfect way to cap an outstanding performance: he already had a fumble recovery, another pick, and eight tackles on his résumé before catching the game-clincher.
The game also was a noteworthy one for McCown: he finished with the best receiving numbers of his career. Yes, he was a quarterback. His usage that day, however, showed that he was much more than that — he was a guy willing to do what it took to help his team succeed. In this sense, Josh McCown would also have fit in well in New England. He never got the chance, but his game against the club in 2006 will live forever.
Relive Josh McCown’s two-reception performance against New England here (for some reason, though, the three plays are in the wrong order):
The time @JoshMcCown12 played a mean slot receiver against the Patriots.(Dec. 3, 2006) @Lions pic.twitter.com/kqIdjvvpQX— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) June 17, 2019