- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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CLEVELAND -- He gas pedaled, windmilled and, finally, Cabbage Patched before raising his right arm and holding up three fingers.
The touchdown-catching, dance-creating, fun-loving world of Detroit Lions rookie tight end Joseph Fauria continued with one finger for every pass he was thrown on Sunday and one for every touchdown he scored in a 31-17 win over the Cleveland Browns.
And at this point, it is tough to say what he’ll do next.
Simply, whenever quarterback Matthew Stafford throws to Fauria, he scores. He has at least one touchdown in every game he has been officially targeted. Sunday was a bit different than most.
He did something that hadn’t been done in his lifetime or the lifetime of his uncle, former NFL tight end Christian Fauria: He caught three touchdown passes in a game for the Lions, something a tight end hasn’t done since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
It happens because he is a matchup issue for every cornerback and safety in the league.
“Well, first of all, he’s tall as hell,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “But there’s a lot of tall guys that aren’t good football players. The thing that separates Joe and has allowed him to make those plays is he’s really, really strong. Has really strong hands.
“We saw that early on in training camp. He had some plays that he made that there were collisions and he had to leave his feet to make catches and he held it when he landed on the ground and he took a hit. That’s carried over for him.”
Cleveland saw that Sunday. On his first touchdown, the one that led to the gas pedal, he leapt up over Browns safety Johnson Bademosi, almost posting him up, caught the ball and landed for the touchdown.
Second touchdown, the windmill dunk over the goalpost, was similar. Fauria caught the ball in traffic with a smaller jump and took a hit from cornerback Buster Skrine as he scored.
Third touchdown, the Cabbage Patch, he had to adjust his body mid-air over T.J. Ward to make the play.
“Being a rookie and being young, you have to work your way up and earn that trust,” Fauria said. “I just talked to the quarterbacks this past week and they are just starting to get used to how I run routes.
“That trust I have with Matthew is tremendous and that’s the reason why everything happened today.”
The chemistry and trust with Stafford is something Fauria has mentioned often in his first two months as a pro. Stafford said it took some time to adjust to throwing to the 6-foot-7 Fauria because a ball doesn’t have to be as precise around him.
Fauria recognized he needed to have consistency. He had to show the ability to run routes correctly and with precision. That was how he would be able to go from merely a large, dancing red zone target to a full-fledged tight end.
In six games he has nine official targets, seven catches, five touchdowns, four different dances and one shoutout from Jimmy Fallon.
“Well, we always wonder what he’s going to do when he gets in the end zone,” wide receiver Kris Durham said. “He had a great day. Three touchdowns? That’s a career day for anybody.”
Then Tony Scheffler got hurt last week against Green Bay and Detroit had little choice but to use Fauria more often.
It ended up with three touchdowns, two dances, one goal post dunk and unlimited possibilities, both on the field and in the end zone, for what could come next.