Critical of Dan Campbell’s clock management vs. Buffalo Bills? Get real, it’s preseason

Detroit Free Press

So apparently this is a thing. At least for a few people.

And the fact that it is makes me want to bang my head against a wall.

A couple angry Detroit Lions fans emailed me over the weekend livid at the team’s clock management in Friday’s preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills.

One emailer called it “atrocious.” Another wrote, “Typical Lions.” And before you go saying that’s just a couple bitter fans bracing themselves for another Lions letdown, well, a former NFL general manager took Lions coach Dan Campbell to task for his team’s late-game play calling, too.

Here’s one reason why it doesn’t matter: It’s the preseason.

And here’s another: It’s the preseason.

And if you still need another reason after that, you’re probably looking for things to be unhappy about with the world.

[ How Lions DB Bobby Price could make 53-man roster; ‘he’s a baby fawn’ ]

Yes, teams want to win every game they play. I get that. Even in the preseason. But what’s the point of running out the clock in a meaningless exhibition game when the goal of the preseason is to get a proper evaluation of the players on your roster?

Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, and by proxy, Campbell, made a couple unorthodox calls in the final two minutes of the game, throwing on consecutive plays when the Bills had just one timeout to burn.

The Lions were down, 13-12, at the time and well within field goal range, even with their shoddy kicking situation. Had they run the ball twice, they likely would have kicked the game-winning field goal with about a minute to play and given the ball back to Buffalo with, as it turns out, still plenty of time for a Bills rally.

Instead, after the Bills called a timeout to stop the clock on second-and-10 from the 15-yard line with 1:49 left, David Blough threw a pass to Javon McKinley along the right sideline. McKinley’s momentum carried him out of bounds, stopping the clock.

One play later, on third-and-5 from the 10 with 1:46 remaining, Blough threw incomplete in McKinley’s general direction while scrambling to avoid pressure.

Randy Bullock made the go-ahead 28-yard field goal with 1:38 left, and Buffalo got the ball back with 93 seconds on the clock and one timeout in its pocket.

MORE FROM BIRKETT: Why offensively challenged Lions will go young in 2021

Had the Lions run that second-down play in the regular season, Campbell and Lynn would have deserved to be skewered. Stopping the clock for a 5-yard gain and allowing Buffalo to keep its timeout and have extra time on its final drive goes against everything Vince Lombardi taught in Football 101.

But again, it’s the preseason.

“There’s a number of things that we did — hell, that I did, just to give a look to some guys that I might not ordinarily do in a game,” Campbell said late Friday night. “But man, just to be able to get (Tom) Kennedy another ball (as the Lions did on third-and-4 on their first play after the two-minute warning) or get McKinley (another pass), cause we didn’t get many targets; he caught that big deep ball. So you’re doing things to really evaluate guys and of course you want to win the game. But you’re also trying to give carries, you’re trying to give Blough throws, you’re trying to do a lot of things to evaluate versus other talent.”

I get the angst of some Lions fans who have been through disastrous rebuilds and seen ill-prepared coaches before. It’s reflexive to complain about what happened Friday night in some ways.

And if we’re being honest, Campbell did kind of try to play for the win on Buffalo’s final drive: Two plays after Bobby Price, a converted safety who was playing his first game at cornerback, gave up the 42-yard pass that put the Bills on the fringes of field goal range, the Lions pulled Price and Alex Brown and re-inserted third-string corners Ifeatu Melifonwu and Jerry Jacobs into the game.

MORE LIONS THOUGHTS FROM FRIDAY: Penei Sewell gives up sack on opening series

Campbell must prove his clock management chops as a new coach, and Lynn has some atoning to do for the way he managed games as head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers the past few years.

But let’s not pretend like a couple plays they call at the end of the first preseason game, with third-string players on the field — some of whom will not even make it to Preseason Game No. 2 — is any sign of how they will approach the waning seconds of a close game in Lambeau Field.

There will be plenty of time to pass judgment on Campbell’s in-game coaching acumen, just wait until the regular season begins.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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