OU football: Why Marquise Brown was the feel-good story of the NFL's opening weekend
NORMAN — Lincoln Riley was in his office Sunday afternoon talking to a recruit when he heard hooting and hollering coming from down the hall.
“I knew something good had happened,” he said.
Turns out, it was something very good.
Coaches in another part of Oklahoma’s football offices were watching as Marquise Brown turned his first catch in the NFL into a touchdown. They went crazy, of course.
But it was rinse and repeat a few minutes later when the former Sooner great and current Baltimore rookie made it two for two. His second career catch was a touchdown, too.
Quite the Hollywood debut.
“To see him go make those plays was not surprising,” Riley said, “but it was really, really an awesome moment.
“Happy for that kid.”
How could anyone not be?
On the first weekend of the NFL season, there were plenty of feel-good stories. Carson Wentz returned from injury. Larry Fitzgerald looked dominant at 36 years old. Little-known Austin Ekeler scored the overtime game-winner while filling in for holdout Melvin Gordon. But nothing was any better than Brown’s debut.
Only 10 months ago, Brown was in tears on the Sooner sideline at the Big 12 title game. We didn’t know it at the time, but he had suffered a Lisfranc foot injury. The mid-foot malady involves bones being displaced from other bones or ligaments, and it can be every bit as painful as it sounds.
Still, Brown tried to play in the national semifinal less a month later. He was not himself, dropping balls and going without a catch.
In February, he had surgery.
No wonder he broke down after being selected by the Ravens in the first round of the NFL Draft. He hadn’t been able to do anything at full speed for months. No drills at the combine. No workouts for teams. He had no way of knowing where he’d be picked or even if he'd be picked that first night.
The Ravens gambled on him, but on Sunday in Brown's hometown of Miami and on the very field where he struggled so mightily in his final game as a Sooner, he made good on Baltimore’s bet.
His first touchdown came on a slant. Brown got inside position on Dolphin safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, eluded his tackle and scampered 47 yards for the score.
“I was just like, ‘Oh, yeah, first catch,’” Brown told reporters in Miami after the game. “I was pretty hyped.”
Four minutes later, he was loose again, this time on a post route. When Fitzpatrick reached out to slow him down, Brown just ran through the grab. Fitzpatrick was 5 yards behind when Brown caught the ball.
It turned into an 83-yard touchdown.
Brown ended up with one of the best receiving performances ever by a former Sooner in the NFL. He finished with four catches for 147 yards and those two electrifying touchdowns.
And the thing is, Brown isn’t a hundred percent yet.
Even though he sat out workouts over the summer and was held out of practice as recently as last week, his foot isn’t completely healed. He alluded to that Sunday, mentioning he’s sought advice from teammate Jimmy Smith, who suffered a Lisfranc injury years ago and needed more than a year to recover.
“Each week, it’s improving,” Brown said. “And each week, it’s going to get better.”
Does that mean Brown will get better, too?
Seems possible, though it will be tough to top what he did Sunday.
“It was phenomenal,” said Sooner receiver Charleston Rambo, who watched the game with fellow receiver CeeDee Lamb. “Me and CeeDee were just looking at the TV like, ‘We watched him at practice do this. That’s nothing.’”
But of course, it wasn’t nothing. There was no certainty a speed receiver could be every bit as speedy after a bad and often temperamental injury to his foot.
Frankly, no one would’ve blamed Brown had he broke down again Sunday – but this time, it would’ve been tears of joy.
“Everything I’ve been through this offseason, just to be out there and be able to make plays and help the team win,” Brown said after the game, “it felt pretty good.”
And it was almost impossible not to feel pretty good for him.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
Former Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown had one of the best performances of the opening weekend of the NFL season. Here's a look at some others in the NFL with connections to our state who had memorable starts to the season, some good, some bad:
Mark Andrews: If not for Brown, the former Sooner tight end might've been the star of the weekend. The second-year pro had eight catches for 108 yards and one touchdown for Baltimore.
Zac Taylor: The Norman High School alum didn't get a win in his coaching debut, but his Cincinnati Bengals showed some positive signs in a 21-20 loss to Seattle.
Kyler Murray: The 2018 Heisman Trophy winner nearly led Arizona back from an 18-point deficit. The former OU quarterback was 15 for 19 for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Kyler Murray: Part of the reason the Cardinals got into such a hole against the Lions was Murray's early struggles. He was only 9 of 25 for 70 yards with one interceptions in the first three quarters.
Baker Mayfield: Cleveland's big loss to Tennessee wasn't all Mayfield's fault — that offensive line is baaaaad — but the former Sooner quarterback threw three interceptions in the decisive fourth quarter, including a pick-six.
Ben Roethlisberger's doghouse: Despite James Washington's beautiful 45-yard reception — and most of the other Pittsburgh receivers struggling to simply catch the ball — Roethlisberger all but refused to throw to the former Oklahoma State standout in a 33-3 loss to New England.