Dan Campbell still confident: 0-4 Detroit Lions ‘not as far away as it appears’

Detroit Free Press

Jared Goff has seen it before. Lived it, in fact.

Goff was a rookie in 2016 when the Los Angeles Rams were one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Rams went 4-12 that season and finished the year on a seven-game losing streak that sucked the life out of the locker room.

“It seemed like as the season went on and we lost more games, you start going like this mentally a little bit, right?” Goff said, moving his hand in a downward direction. “And I was young and I didn’t really know any better, but here it doesn’t feel that way. We have lost four in a row, but we do feel like we are improving.”

The Detroit Lions (0-4) enter Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings as one of two winless teams in the NFL along with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

They are off to their worst start since losing five straight to open the 2015 season, and Dan Campbell is trying to avoid becoming the first Lions coach to begin his tenure with an 0-5 record since Rod Marinelli in 2006.

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Just one Lions coach has started worse in the Super Bowl era, Marty Mornhinweg, who went 0-12 in 2001.

Campbell acknowledged this week that this season is about “building our foundation” and “finding those guys that we know we can count on and lean on and we think they can help us win down the road.”

In that regard, he said the organization is on track despite its record.

“Look, 0-4 stings,” he said. “But at the same time, we’re not as far away as it appears to be. We were two plays away last week. You could argue we were two plays away from winning that game. That’s nothing against Chicago. They played well. It’s a credit to them. But we are not — we are not as far away as it appears to be.”

The Lions have played good stretches of football this season, though nothing close to a full game.

They stumbled through three quarters of a season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers, before rallying to make the game interesting in the fourth quarter. They traded punches with the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers for a half at Lambeau Field, then wilted under the lights of Monday Night Football. They came a record-setting field goal away from beating the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3, though Baltimore, playing on a short week and fresh off an emotional win over the Kansas City Chiefs, dropped three touchdown passes in the game. And last week, they failed to score on four of five trips to the red zone in a 24-14 loss to the Bears.

As bad as things are record-wise, nothing about the Lions start is unexpected.

Three of their losses have come to playoff contenders and the fourth was to a division rival on the road.

Their already-thin roster has been ravaged by injuries. Defensive starters Romeo Okwara and Jeff Okudah were lost for the season to torn Achilles tendons, and their two best offensive linemen, Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow, are on injured reserve.

And they will start four rookies (and have a fifth in their core playing group) Sunday against the Vikings.

Still, losing is easier to stomach as a concept than it is to live through, and no one involved is happy with the results.

“Winning solves a lot of issues, it solves a lot of problems in this profession — and most professions,” Campbell said. “It helps. It helps you get going. It helps you jump out of bed maybe a little bit better. And so, yeah, it does. That’s what this is about is getting that first win for us and getting a win.”

That may be easier said than done against a Vikings team that has played better than its 1-3 record.

The Vikings, winners of seven straight against the Lions dating back to 2017, have lost close games to potential playoff teams the Cincinnati Bengals (in overtime), Arizona Cardinals (on a missed field goal as time expired) and Cleveland Browns (14-7). They beat another playoff contender, at least before Russell Wilson’s injury, the Seattle Seahawks, for their lone win.

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The Lions, meanwhile, have been shut out in three of the eight halves they’ve played this season and have given up the fourth-most points in the NFL.

“Campbell’s done a great job with the entire team,” tight end T.J. Hockenson said. “We all buy into that guy. We love having him in this building, we love having him as a head coach and I think we just want to get one for that guy. I mean, like I told you guys last week, we’re not going to get handed one.

“We got to go out and take it and I think that’s just what we’re trying to do with that. I think coming in and having a victory Monday would definitely mean a lot for all of us. It’s just, you got to get that first one out of the way. You’ve got to take one and then they start rolling.”

It took a season, but that’s eventually what happened for Goff in L.A.

After losing seven straight to close his rookie year, Goff helped the Rams to an 11-5 record and playoff appearance in 2017.

The Rams changed coaches after Goff’s first season, and looking back on that transition and comparing it to where the Lions are now, Goff said Campbell has instilled a similar belief in players and deserves credit for keeping morale high.

“But I think that’s been the most encouraging thing about our group so far is that we haven’t tasted that reward and we’re still doing the right things and still chopping wood,” Goff said. “And again, it’s never a moral victory, but we have the right guys, which is the encouraging part.”

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

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