Brandon Pettigrew's performance in the Detroit Lions' Thanksgiving Day overtime loss to the Houston Texans is microcosm of his NFL career.
Pettigrew hauled in eight catches for 74 yards. He was a key weapon in an offense that compiled 525 yards and scored 31 points against one of the league's top defenses.
The Lions, though, were plagued by Pettigrew's overtime fumble and coach Jim Schwartz's “red flag” mistake that cost them a touchdown.
Pettigrew's fumble ended an overtime drive at the Houston 32-yard line, a drive that might have won the game. He also dropped a pivotal fourth-quarter pass.
“You can't have turnovers. And I've dropped too many passes,” Pettigrew said. “I've dropped two touchdown passes (this season). That's a big no-no. Those are big plays. To be big time you have to make big-time plays.”
Earlier this season Pettigrew was stripped by Tennessee's Alterraun Verner late in the fourth quarter. The fumble was returned 72 yards for a touchdown in another game the Lions lost in overtime.
“That's on me,” Pettigrew said. “It's nobody else's responsibility to hold the ball high and tight except me.”
If Pettigrew, 27, can correct his drops and fumbles, he could develop into one of the league's elite tight ends.
A first-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2009, selected 20th overall, Pettigrew hauled in 83 receptions last season, third most among tight ends. His other receiving stats (777 yards, five touchdowns) also ranked among the league leaders.
But it's that other stat — eight dropped passes this season, 32 in his career — that has been a constant issue.
“I need to focus to make sure I look the ball in and catch it with my hands,” Pettigrew said. “That's something I've had a little bit of trouble with the past few years, dropping some very catchable balls. But that's coming. I'm working on those little things.”
Pettigrew, from Tyler, Texas, once again ranks among the NFL's top tight ends this season. He's fifth in receptions (54) and is close to the top 10 in receiving yards (513).
After last week's loss, Schwartz told Detroit media he still has confidence in Pettigrew, who was given the nickname “Superman” at OSU following a diving TD against Texas Tech and a game-winning score against Kansas State when he dragged defenders into the end zone.
“Obviously, turnovers are critical, particularly when you're in scoring range, particularly in end-game scenarios,” Schwartz said. “But he's made a lot of plays for us.
“It's been a rough spot for him as far as some drops and some fumbles. But he'll get through it and prove that he's the good player that we all know he is.”
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was quoted: “I'll continue throwing to that kid until they tell me I can't.”
In the fantasy football world, Pettigrew's other skills get overlooked.
Detroit defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said run blocking is an area where Pettigrew excels, another reason Detroit management believes Pettigrew can be an ideal complement to superstar Calvin Johnson and the Lions' other receivers.
“He's a big strong guy,” Cunningham told the Detroit Free Press. “I think his biggest asset is his blocking. We feel it when we practice (against him). He's giant. And he's mean and aggressive.”
The Lions last season ended a 12-year playoff drought but odds are they won't return to the playoffs this season.
Detroit (4-7) probably would need to run the table, win its final five games. That will be difficult against a challenging schedule that still includes Green Bay, Atlanta and Chicago.
“We have a young team and we play in a tough division.” Pettigrew said. “But moving forward, I see big things. Every year we keep adding key parts and key players. As long as we can keep that base, our mindset will always be to keep getting better and play in the Super Bowl.”
Pettigrew wants to be part of that “base.” He signed a five-year, $5.1 million deal the year he was drafted. His contract ends in 2013.
His No. 1 goal is to help the Lions get to the Super Bowl, but he has individual goals.
“Hopefully one of these years I'll make the Pro Bowl,” Pettigrew said. “That's definitely out there. But there's a lot I still need to work on. I'm going to try to get my production up and play at the top of my game.
“I definitely have left some plays on the field that could have put us ahead in some games. But I've got to move forward, compete hard and be more consistent to help this team win games.”