The curious case of Ameer Abdullah and the Lions backfield

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ameer Abdullah said he “probably” could have played Sunday against Tampa Bay, a game he was inactive for because of a neck injury.

After Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers and again on Monday, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell said the reason Abdullah didn’t play was due to health issues. Caldwell wouldn’t get into specifics about why Abdullah didn’t play other than that and declined to respond to a report that his one-time starting running back was healthy enough to play.

But Abdullah hinted that he felt he was good enough to go against Tampa and found out he was inactive just like he would have any other week.

“Just a normal thing,” Abdullah said. “Just a protocol like you would take with any injury. It wasn’t like a big lead-up, wasn’t like a drum roll when I walked in [makes a drum roll sound]. You’re not playing.”

But it does call into question Abdullah’s role going forward with Detroit. Caldwell said “there’s a possibility” Abdullah will be part of Saturday’s plan against Chicago. Abdullah, who said he has never been in a situation in his career where he felt healthy enough to play and was held out before Sunday, said he hopes he’s part of that plan, too.

Abdullah wouldn’t say whether he was disappointed about his inactivation, saying he trusts Caldwell with whatever the plan is.

“That’s the coach’s call. That’s the coach’s call,” Abdullah said. “It’s never in my hands, and if the coaches feel like it’s in the best direction, then maybe they know something I don’t, you know? I’m always going to trust that. I’m always going to fall behind the lead of this team.

“You’ll definitely get a lot more answers if you ask Coach Caldwell these questions, but I’m always going to follow his lead. Whatever his direction is this week, I’m for it.”

For the first time in recent memory, the Lions didn’t say Abdullah was their No. 1 back Sunday, though. When Caldwell was asked about it after the game, he defaulted to a rotation.

“We don’t talk about number ones, number twos,” Caldwell said. “That’s your guys’ business. We have a three-man rotation. With the three guys that we have up, all three guys play.”

Except on May 31 of this year, when Caldwell was asked if Abdullah was still the team’s starting running back, Caldwell said “certainly.” During the NFL draft, after the Lions declined to take a running back, general manager Bob Quinn also said Abdullah was the team’s starting running back.

To be fair, things change throughout the season, and that seems to be what has happened at this point. Abdullah has averaged 13.6 carries a game this season and leads the Lions with 505 yards rushing. He has had 20 or more carries only twice in 2017, however -- in wins over Minnesota and Green Bay. Since that win over the Packers, where Abdullah had 48 yards, Abdullah has rushed 11, 11 and six times before suffering the neck injury on Thanksgiving against the Vikings.

And Abdullah, to his credit, was diplomatic about his situation. He said he doesn’t get the sense the Lions are moving away from him at the position and said he’d do whatever is asked of him.

He also took the blame for Detroit’s rushing offense, now worst in the NFL at 76.3 yards per game and yards per attempt at 3.33.

“It’s always going to fall on me, and rightfully so. Rightfully so,” Abdullah said. “So, always got to be productive, and the good thing is we’ve got three more games and there’s a lot to gain in these three games with everything still out there for us to get, in a sense. It’s important for me to be at my best.”