“He told me he needed me to step up and ‘Be who we drafted you to be’ and I felt him when he said that,” Fairley said of a conversation he had with Cunningham. “They drafted me as the 13th pick so that’s how I have to play. That’s what I put on myself each and every day and each and every week.”
Last week in a victory over the Eagles, Cunningham and everyone else saw Fairley play like a first-round draft choice.
"With Corey out, he had to step up and I think now he's experienced this," Cunningham said. "He had like three hits, half a sack, should have had another one. He and (Ndamukong) Suh just completely destroyed the inside of their offensive line.
“This is what I’ve been looking for. It was time. It was time for him to play and step up and step up he did.”
But it can’t just be a flash-in-the-pan kind of performance for Fairley. either.
“We expected stuff like that when we drafted him in the first round,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said this week. “I don’t want to give him pats on the back for doing what we expect.”
Schwartz couldn’t be more right, but it had to start somewhere for Fairley. Some thought that might have been last year after his game against the Saints in Week 13 when Fairley had a sack and two tackles for loss in the first quarter.
He was on his way to a monster game, but was forced to leave after aggravating a broken foot he suffered in training camp.
That Saints game wasn't a jumping off point for Fairley, who dealt with the injury the rest of the year. It also didn't spring board him into the beginning of this season when he's been healthy.
Maybe Sunday will do it?
“Last week did a lot (for me),” Fairley said. “It gets your confidence level up. I’ve been confident, it’s just being able to go out there and show those guys I can do it each and every week. That’s going to be the main thing for me and that’s what I’m putting on myself.”
It just so happen that Sunday’s performance came in a game Fairley was making his first career start for the injured Williams. Fairley, though, doesn’t think it’s such a big coincidence.
“There’s always a difference to starting the game off,” he said. “You’re able to get into the flow of the game. You get that initial blow from a guy and you know basically what you’re going to get from a guy the rest of the day. You get into the flow.”
Williams returned to the practice field Thursday for the first time since undergoing knee surgery Sept. 25. His status for Monday’s game in Chicago is still up in the air, though. If Williams doesn’t play, expect Fairley to start. Who knows, maybe the Lions start Fairley even if he does play in an attempt to ease him back in.
Either way, Fairley finally showed his ability against the Eagles and if it’s here to stay this time around the Lions could be onto something.