Published November 29, 2016
The playoffs seem to follow Anquan Boldin, no matter where he’s played in his 14-year NFL career.
The playoffs even found him in Arizona, of all places (2008), back when the Cardinals were lock step with the Lions in terms of franchise ineptitude over the past half century. Not only did the ’08 Cards make the playoffs, they came within one amazing Santonio Holmes catch away from winning the Super Bowl.
The playoffs then followed Boldin—the 36 year-old receiver who still has a bear trap for hands—to Baltimore, where he made three post-seasons while a Raven, including a Super Bowl victory in 2012-13.
Then Boldin was a 49er in 2013 and—you guessed it—he made the playoffs again.
And these haven’t been token appearances. No one-and-dones for him.
Boldin has been in the playoffs five times with three different teams and in those five years he’s played in 14 games, all starts. He has 68 playoff catches for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns.
Nothing to sneeze at.
Funny how Boldin always seems to make his way into January and February games, eh?
The allure of the playoffs, which to a player like Boldin is akin to an intoxicant, is partially what drove him to sign with the Lions over the summer in a one-year deal for which GM Bob Quinn must be duly recognized.
Now, it must seem odd to Lions fans that a player of Boldin’s stature would sign in Detroit for a chance at playoff glory, but it is what it is.
Clearly Boldin knows a playoff team when he sees it, since he’s played on a bunch of them.
And what he saw back in July, when he inked the deal with the Lions, led him to say this.
“I like the direction I feel this team is headed,” Boldin said after his first practice with the team. “Good young talent and guys that are hungry. Just watching the last eight games of the season last year, I felt like this team would be in a position to compete this year.”
Boldin was referring, of course, to last year’s 6-2 finish after a brutal 1-7 start that led to the firing of President Tom Lewand and GM Marty Mayhew.
Boldin also said that his familiarity with Lions coach Jim Caldwell—who took over the Ravens’ offensive playcalling late in the 2012 season—factored into his decision to sign on the dotted line.
Boldin, at 36, isn’t the explosive receiver he’s been in the past. Frankly, he’s a possession guy now—and a damned good one.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford must look at Boldin and see him encased.
“Break glass if you need a first down.”
Boldin is averaging just 8.2 yards a reception this year on 48 catches. His longest play has been 29 yards. But he still has two of the strongest hands of any receiver in the NFL. He never catches passes while wide open. In fact, it seems as if Stafford only throws to Boldin if the general vicinity is filled with defenders.
Boldin is never open, per se, because his routes don’t last long enough to give him a chance to get open. But Stafford still slings him the ball, and Boldin keeps catching it.
It’s something that Boldin has been doing since 2003.
His first NFL game came at Ford Field, while with the Cardinals. The Lions won, but Boldin torched them for 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
But for as good as Boldin has been in the regular season (over 1,000 catches for over 13,000 yards), it’s in the playoffs where he’s made the most hay.
Boldin entered 2016 ranked in a tie for 11th all-time in playoff receptions and 12th in playoff receiving yards.
He could move way up in both categories if the Lions make a playoff run this year.
When Quinn signed Boldin to help allay the loss of Calvin Johnson (along with the earlier signing of free agent Marvin Jones Jr.), I thought it to be a brilliant, under-the-radar move. You can’t lose when you bring in someone with Boldin’s pedigree, especially if the dude can still play, which he could.
It was smart and savvy for Quinn to snap up Boldin for a mere one year commitment. Whether Boldin returns to the NFL in general, or to the Lions specifically, in 2017 remains to be seen. But right now, Boldin is every bit a key cog to the Lions’ surprising 7-4 start as anyone on the roster, with the exception of Stafford.
Boldin’s yards per catch is the lowest in his career, by far. But the way that offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and Stafford use Boldin doesn’t call for the big play. Cooter especially knows that Boldin simply can’t be that explosive guy anymore, so why force it?
Still, Boldin has six TDs in 2016 with five games to play. His 1:8 TD catch-to-receptions ratio is by far the best in his career, tied with his 2008 season, when he caught 11 touchdown passes among his 89 receptions.
Last year, for example, Boldin caught 69 passes for the 49ers, but only four hit paydirt. That 1:17.5 ratio is more than two times worse than this year’s mark.
Cooter and Stafford have Golden Tate, Jones, Andre Roberts and tight end Eric Ebron—who’s coming into his own in year three—to handle the downfield stuff. Stafford has to heave the ball to find those guys.
But with Boldin, Stafford doesn’t need to throw the ball further than five or six yards before making the connection, usually for a first down to keep drives alive. And, like I said, Boldin is never open in the classic sense.
He’s never open, but his hands are so strong, it doesn’t matter. Boldin makes catches under pressure and heavy coverage as if the footballs are babies being dropped out of a burning building.
The playoffs keep finding Anquan Boldin, no matter where he plays.
Even a star-crossed franchise like the Lions looks to be ready to keep that trend alive.