Frank Ragnow is the engine that makes Lions’ offense roar

A play late in the first half between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions on Sunday had the hometown fans fearing the worst.

With the Lions holding a 10-3 lead, they faced a 3rd and 1 near midfield with under two minutes left in the half. Rather than run the ball for the first down, Detroit looked to pick it up through the air. Defensive lineman Calijah Kancey had other ideas, however, as he bullied his way to Jared Goff for a sack.

Compounding matters is the fact that Goff rolled into the back of center Frank Ragnow, who remained down on the turf clutching his left knee in pain.

Tampa Bay went right down the field on their ensuing possession and scored to tie the game, leaving the Lions fans at Ford Field and around the world wondering about their Super Bowl dreams.

But they did not need to worry about Ragnow.

Despite a litany of injuries that have hampered him all season long, Ragnow did not miss a single snap. He was back on the field when Goff kneeled to end the first half, and he is expected to be in the lineup for the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, despite suffering a sprained knee and a sprained ankle in the game against Tampa Bay.

“The dude’s just a warrior man,” Lions left tackle Taylor Decker told reporters after Sunday’s win, via Carmen Vitali of FOX Sports. “And he’s been through it. He’s been through it personally, he’s been through it with us as a team. The guy is a warrior, and there was never a doubt when he got banged up today that he was just going to keep playing and keep fighting. Because it seems like he’s always just fighting through pain. All the time.”

The mere fact Ragnow did not miss a snap is impressive enough, but then you remember what he was facing on Sunday.

Vita Vea.

For much of the afternoon Ragnow was tasked with moving an absolute mountain of a human being, the 6’4, 347-pound Vea who is one of the NFL’s best interior defensive lineman. These two often locked horns on Sunday, starting from Detroit’s first offensive drive of the game. On this short run from David Montgomery, Ragnow is tasked with “reaching” Vea, who is aligned in the A-Gap, in the direction of the play. Ragnow gets some help from right guard Graham Glasgow, but eventually it is up to Ragnow to control the big DT:

Later in the first quarter, the two again crossed paths on this six-yard run from Jahmyr Gibbs. Vea eventually comes off the block thanks to a strong counter move, but Ragnow gets enough of him to give Gibbs a crease:

It was not always Vea that Ragnow was tasked with handling, as some of his impressive plays came against other defenders. Take this play from late in the first half, where the Buccaneers bring a little pressure. Right before the snap linebacker K.J. Britt flashes downhill, towards the A-Gap on Ragnow’s right shoulder. Ragnow has to make the snap, diagnose the blitz, and then anchor against a hard-charging Britt, who weighs in at 235 pounds:

Completely normal stuff. Ragnow manages to anchor against Britt, standing him up in the hold despite the linebacker’s running start. Britt manages to scrape off and help on the tackle, but not after a four-yard gain from Montgomery.

Ragnow’s injury came just two plays later, but it did not prevent him from throwing some critical blocks in the second half. The 31-yard touchdown run from Gibbs was one of the game’s biggest plays and there was Ragnow, climbing up to the second level to help pave the road:

Just before Amon-Ra St. Brown caught a touchdown pass to give Detroit a 31-17 lead, Gibbs picked up four yards to give Detroit a first-and-goal situation at the Tampa Bay 9-yard line. Perhaps the biggest block on that run? Ragnow pulling to the edge to take on Yaya Diaby:

But without question Ragnow’s biggest block came late in the third quarter. With the game still knotted at 10-10, the Lions faced a 4th and goal at the Tampa Bay 1-yard line. True to form, Dan Campbell kept his offense on the field, and Goff aligned under Ragnow, who was staring across at Vea.

The Lions ran right behind Ragnow, who was tasked with blocking Vea. The big defensive tackle did his best to counter Ragnow’s initial punch, but the center was not going to give up without a fight. Watch as Ragnow manages to re-anchor himself, giving running back Craig Montgomery just enough space to slice into the end zone:

Simply tremendous, and simply necessary.

After the game, Campbell sang his center’s praises.

“It’s like, man, you may not be 100%. But if you feel like you can produce and you can win at 80% of yourself — and that’s what Frank does,” Campbell said, via NFL Media. “He believes he can. He trusts himself and he trusts those guys next to him.”

In a city known for horsepower, Ragnow is perhaps the engine that makes the Detroit offense roar. He and the rest of the Lions offense will face one of their stiffer tests yet, when they square off with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, as the 49ers have a defense with some incredibly talented players up front.

But given what he has done all year long, and what he did Sunday, expect Ragnow to be up to the challenge.

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