Why Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell should have given his players a ‘victory Monday’

Detroit Free Press

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Everywhere I turned Monday, people were still freaking out about the Detroit Lions’ dramatic loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

I turned on the television in the morning to check the weather, and the meteorologist on WDIV showed a live look at Ford Field and brought up the loss. My man, I only wanted to know if it would rain.

At a gathering among friends and colleagues in the afternoon, person after person brought it up.

“I couldn’t believe it.”

“Only the Lions.”

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Am I the only person in Detroit who was encouraged by the way the Lions fought and put themselves in position to win a game they had no business winning against a great quarterback and a good team?

During the virtual news conference calls Monday, reporters asked the Lions defensive players what they had learned from the problems on the Ravens’ final drive that led to the loss.

[ Lions OT Taylor Decker likely out vs. Bears; Penei Sewell decision will wait ]

Honestly, these questions should never have been asked. Because if coach Dan Campbell had done the right thing, he would have held a team meeting Monday morning, pulled out the game film, poured lighter fluid on it, struck a match and immediately declared a “victory Monday.”

Because you and I know the Lions did everything they needed to do to win that game, other than offer a human sacrifice to the football gods — or at least get a better vision plan for back judge Terrence Miles so he could, you know, actually do his job and watch the play clock.

Detroit Lions did a lot right in heartbreaking loss to Ravens

Incidentally, here are my top guesses for how Miles explained his goof to his bosses at NFL officiating headquarters:

“I couldn’t see the play clock with the sun in my eyes.” (Quickly informed the Lions play indoors.)

“I was distracted by Detroit’s downtown nightlife scene.” (Informed it was a day game.)

“I was busy yelling ‘Happy New Year!’ and looking for someone to kiss when the play clock reached zero.”

OK, back the Lions. They’re bad. Which is why this game was so good. If you weren’t one of the 50,788 lucky souls at the game, you didn’t get to feel the excitement inside Ford Field that has been absent far too long, even before the pandemic.

It was ear-piercing athletic electricity at its best. I had forgotten how loud the stadium could be and how much I had missed the energy and the joy it brought fans to experience those moments.

[ Dan Campbell: NFL yet to say anything about missed delay of game call ]

I was shocked six days earlier when the Lions took a 17-14 halftime lead at Green Bay. But trailing the Ravens, 10-0, at halftime on a short week in a slog of a game up to that point made me think this was exactly the kind of ugly, choppy game the Lions could win.

When the Lions cut the deficit to 16-14 midway through the fourth quarter, I allowed myself to believe they could shock the world.

Even without Jamie Collins or Trey Flowers. Even without Taylor Decker or Tyrell Williams. Even without their regular kicker, Austin Seibert, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list three days earlier and who has so much acclaim that the press box announcer mispronounced his name for most of the season opener. (It’s SIGH-bert.)

The defense had its most consistent game and held the NFL’s top rushing attack, which entered averaging 220 yards, to 116 yards.

The offense wasn’t great. Kalif Raymond was the leading receiver and Darren Fells caught as many passes at T.J. Hockenson. But it did enough to set up Ryan Santoso’s 35-yard field that gave the Lions a 17-16 lead with 1:04 left.

And the Lions lost in an epic way that will become part of franchise folklore.

So what? This season was never going to be about wins and losses. And I’m the optimistic fool who predicted the Lions would win six games.

No, this season is about taking small steps, learning to do things the right way and finding out which players are worth keeping around for the next two or three years, when wins and losses actually will matter.

So cry all you want about the loss. Watch your tears circle the drain as you scream in the shower, “Same Old Lions!” Text your buddy, “I couldn’t believe it!”

Vent all you want. But I certainly do believe it. Because even though the Lions lost the game, I believe they found something else just as valuable: improvement.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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