Jared Goff had his moments in opener, but it won’t be nearly enough for bad Detroit Lions

Detroit Free Press

Welcome to Detroit, Jared Goff.

Let me set the scene.

Your No. 1 receiver was hurt. Your left tackle had hand surgery, forcing rookie Penei Sewell to move from right tackle — oh, and he had to go up against Nick Bosa.

One of your receivers, Trinity Benson, arrived just six days ago.

And everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

Blown opportunities? Check.

Dropped passes? Check.

Pathetic defense? Check.

Blown coverages? Check.

A pick-six going the wrong direction? Check.

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Empty stands in Ford Field as the game ended? Check.

Or as we say in Detroit, it felt like the familiar start to another regime. On Sunday afternoon, in the debut of a new front office, a new coaching staff and new quarterback — Goff took over for Matthew Stafford — the Detroit Lions fell behind by 28 points midway through the third quarter to the San Francisco 49ers.

“We dug ourselves in a really big ditch, early, against a very good team,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said.

But then, something interesting happened. This team kept fighting, showing a dose of grit and fortitude we didn’t see much when Matt Patricia was coaching this team, at least at the beginning of Patricia’s disastrous stint.

If nothing else, these guys clearly want to play for Campbell.

Then, Goff made things interesting, engineering a second-half comeback while throwing 57 times, even though this team isn’t built to do that.

“He gave us a chance at the end of the game,” Campbell said, after the 49ers held on for a 41-33 win.

Goff missed some open receivers and tried to force the ball to T.J. Hockenson, which turned into a pick six.

But he also engineered three second-half touchdown drives.

“I think we found out a little bit about some guys today, which is a good thing,” Goff said. “But that being said, we can’t put ourselves in that position.”

What did we find out about this team?

Well, it’s not very good.

Mainly, because the defense is awful. Last year, the Lions gave up 32.4 points per game, the third worst average in NFL history.

Now, here’s the scary news. This 2021 defense could be worse.

“The defense, we don’t get our first stop until the third quarter,” Campbell said. “I mean really — we did get the turnover, but they scored on every possession after that.”

That has forced the Lions to employ an interesting offensive approach. Knowing they don’t have many legitimate, downfield threats — if any — they used the receivers as decoys and dumped the ball to the running backs and tight ends.

Of Goff’s 38 completions, 24 of them went to Hockenson, D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams.

Knowing his defense can’t stop anybody, and that his offense lacks big play threats, Campbell turned into the gambling man. He was bold and aggressive — thank goodness, if only for entertainment purposes — going for it on fourth down twice in the first quarter.

“I love it,” Goff said. “I love it. He’s an aggressive guy and I don’t think I even flinched to come off the field on a few of those. I kind of expected it to happen and we love doing it.”

The first one failed miserably.

But he didn’t freak out.

The other worked.

“It just — I felt like we needed to do that this game,” Campbell said. “I think every game has its own challenges and its own unique floor plan, if you will. I just felt like it was important to try and create some momentum, if you will. I knew that three wasn’t going to be good enough to beat this team. And so how do you get seven? The best way to do that is give some four-downs to your offense and go for it on fourth down. So I don’t second guess those, I don’t. I wanted to try to be aggressive, but smart at the same time. We came up short.”

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If nothing else, that should at least spice up these games.

Because I have a feeling the early stage of this rebuild is going to be brutal. No surprise there. We’ve been through this — oh — for the last half century or so.

But this team has something else. This defense is close-your-eyes bad. The offense doesn’t have many weapons. And they have to be just about perfect — Goff has to be perfect — just to have a chance to win.

He wasn’t perfect on Sunday. None of the Lions were.

“Hopefully the team knows who I am and we can draw from that a little bit,” Goff said. “But at the same time, we shouldn’t put ourselves in that position. We shouldn’t have to show who we are and, in that sense, we should hopefully be making it a game the whole game and making plays throughout the game.”

But there was one giant piece of good news: the Lions are still in play for the first pick in the 2021 draft.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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