Bad calls are one thing, but Dan Campbell can’t let Detroit Lions go ‘numb’ already

Detroit Free Press

CHICAGO — Dan Campbell should’ve taken the points. Gone for the field goal. Called a timeout to huddle.

The Detroit Lions head coach might have kept his team closer with a handful of different — and less risky — decisions during Sunday’s 24-14 loss to the Chicago Bears.

Fine. We all get that. Campbell gets it.

He admitted after the game that in hindsight he would’ve reconsidered a couple choices. And that moving forward he will reconsider his overall aggressiveness on fourth-down play-calling.

Got it?

Good. Let’s move on. Because the rookie (yes, he’s a rookie) head coach will learn to when to step on it and when to brake. That’s the easy part.

The harder part?

Holding off the malaise.

DAVE BIRKETT’S GRADES: Campbell gets D for decision making in Lions loss

CARLOS MONARREZ: Lions’ defense was simply inexcusable against a brutal Bears offense

AFTER THE GAME: Multiple failed fourth downs could cause Campbell to alter approach

Let’s go back to Campbell’s introductory press conference for context, to when he described the kind of team he wanted and how it should reflect this city and to when he famously used the phrase: “Bite a knee cap.” Those four words were meant to convey an underdog’s spirit, an attitude that even in defeat, the Lions were going to “bite a knee cap” on the way back up.

Detailing that same train of thought, the coach also described how his team — your Lions — would lean into the pain of losing, how it wouldn’t go “numb.” Now he gets his chance.

The team’s first three losses were disappointing, even crushing, especially the last-minute collapse against Baltimore. But Sunday’s loss to Chicago felt achingly familiar in a different way, the kind of loss that can give way to giving in.

Not giving up. That’s different, even if the difference is appears subtle.

Think of it this way: Giving up is akin to quitting, a conscious act; giving in is succumbing to human nature, to the subconscious side that stops fighting losing when it begins to feel inevitable. If Campbell isn’t careful, Sunday’s loss could let that inevitability creep in.

He knows it.

Jared Goff knows it, too.

“Yeah,” he said, “we need to make sure we don’t go numb to it and keep that hope, keep that faith that we’ve had.”

But the Lions quarterback didn’t just stop there. He was honest about the job in front of him, his coach, his teammates.

[ After weeks of new hope, these Lions channeled depressing familiarity vs. Chicago ]

“It’s hard, right? It’s hard. We’re 0-4. We’ve lost some tough ones. We’ve shown fight. We’ve shown some good things,” he said. “But ultimately, it hasn’t been close to good enough yet.”

Even Sunday, the Lions showed fight. It wasn’t as obvious as earlier weeks, in part because of injury, in part because of mistakes of execution, in part because of Campbell’s naïve belief that it’s always best to go for it.

Again, that will change. Analytics can help him on that path, as well.

Where, though, do you turn when you’re trying to keep a team from becoming numbed to losing four weeks into a season? Four weeks into your tenure?

Campbell understands better than most coaches who’ve held this peculiar seat that the forces surrounding the franchise can be dark, at times fatalistic. This should help as he tries to keep them at bay.

Again, listen to what he said when he got hired:

“I wanted this job — bad — because I felt like I knew this community. I played here … Here’s what I know, all right? … This community is strong. This place has been kicked, it’s been battered, it’s been bruised, and I can sit up here and give you coach-speak all day long. I can give you, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this many games.’ None of that matters, and you guys don’t want to hear it anyway. You’ve had enough of that shit. Excuse my language.”

He’s right. You have. You’ll excuse the language. You may even excuse aggressive fourth-down calls — at least for a minute. And, for now, you’ll excuse the losing.

What you won’t excuse is another season fogged in by malaise. That you can’t bear. Neither can Campbell, who said his team was angry more than disappointed Sunday.

That’s a good sign. We’ll see if that anger remains.

For a lack of talent is acceptable in the early stages of a rebuild. A lack of fight is not.

Despite the mistakes and miscues, and despite the latest loss, the Lions and their coach said all the right things again. What matters more is if they believe them.

Keeping them believing is up to Campbell. The fourth-down decisions will come.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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