Allen Park — We’ve been conditioned not to overreact to the NFL preseason, but former general manager Michael Lombardi didn’t get that memo.
This weekend, after the Detroit Lions lost their preseason opener to the Buffalo Bills, 16-15, Lombardi aggressively criticized Lions coach Dan Campbell’s clock management at the end of the contest.
“This is a game of intellectual capacity,” Lombardi said. “This is a game of thinking, this is chess on grass. My man, Dan Campbell, wasn’t even playing checkers last night.
“…It’s just stupid football,” Lombardi continued. “You have to do football the right way. This is not about the preseason. This is about you being one step ahead. This is about you being in control. You tell your assistants, ‘Two runs here. We’re running the ball here. I want to run here.’ That’ what head coaches do. If I were the general manager of the Lions and I had to watch this, I would have thrown up after the game. I would have been absolutely sick.”
Lombardi, who transitioned into media several years ago, isn’t one to shy away from strong takes. That’s part of his job, but this particular opinion seemed to lack nuance.
Yes, late in the fourth quarter, the Lions had a chance to force the Bills to use their remaining timeouts and run the clock under a minute before kicking the go-ahead field goal. Instead, the Lions threw the ball twice, both incomplete, giving the Bills closer to two minutes to respond with what turned out to be a game-winning field goal.
Then again, in the preseason, there are other priorities beyond winning the game. Campbell explains.
“To me, that was about getting (quarterback David) Blough a couple of throws or see if we could, see if we could score a touchdown in a tight red (zone),” Campbell said. “Ordinarily, would have milked those timeouts out of our opponent.
“…That’s on me,” Campbell said. “That’s not them. It was, ‘I’m trying to get a look on these guys.’ All of us. The benefit is if you don’t get it, then your defense is in a two-minute, which is what happened at the end, and you get another look at those guys under a high-stress situation, some of those young players.
“You want to win the game, but you are also trying to evaluate these guys under certain circumstances. That’s really what the focus was.”
Make no mistake about it, Campbell would rather have won the game than lose. He made that clear during his press conference shortly after the final whistle. But the chance to get some additional film on guys fighting for roster spots, both on offense and defense, proved to be more pressing than the ultimately meaningless result.
After all, Campbell was here as a player in 2008, when the Lions went 4-0 in the preseason, prior to becoming the first team in NFL history to go 0-16.