I loved that Dan Campbell cried after the Detroit Lions’ loss. Here’s why

Detroit Free Press

Don’t you dare say it.

If you have an ounce of sympathy or, at the very least, if you bothered to closely watch the Detroit Lions’ 19-17 last-second loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, you don’t dare say it.

Because you can’t say it about this Lions team. They don’t deserve the ignominious indignity that has followed this team around for 60-plus years like a stench that refuses to leave the room no matter how many windows are opened or how many coaches are fired.

[ Social media not even mad over Lions’ latest heartbreaking loss. Just really sad ]

So don’t say it. Don’t you dare call this team the same old Lions. They aren’t. You know it, we all know it.

Sure, they may be cursed. But this is not a team that gets in its own way. Or doesn’t play hard. Or is disorganized. Or doesn’t care.

In fact, the Lions may be short on talent, depth and experience. But if you watched coach Dan Campbell cry in his postgame news conference, and how he didn’t bother to hide it, you know he and his team are as deep as the ocean when it comes to caring about performance and results.

And let me state for the record that I love that Campbell cried. This needs to hurt. His team needs to see and feel how much it hurts.

JEFF SEIDEL: At least the Lions are good at one thing: Agonizing losses

“When you see your players give all that they have and you lose that way, it’s tough,” Campbell said through a shaky voice. “You know, you want that for them.”

Campbell grabbed the podium with his massive hands, looked down and searched for words.

“So, um, but we’ll be better for it, you know?” he said, wiping his eyes.

Campbell did everything he needed to do to win this game short of strapping on the pads and taking the field. He learned his lesson in Chicago and tempered his aggressive calls. He was conservative and cautious, stalking the Vikings with field goals and waiting in the tall grass until it was time to pounce.

He trusted in his defense, which never broke, came up with two takeaways and gave the offense the ball back with less than two minutes left.

He trusted in his offense and told quarterback Jared Goff, before the first huddle of the final drive, that they would go for a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown to win the game.

All trust. No doubt.

And when Goff’s nice feathery pass found KhaDarel Hodge in the back of the end zone for two points and a 17-16 lead with 37 seconds left, it looked like it was finally time for the Lions to be rewarded for their efforts and were on their way to their first victory.

After being done in by Justin Tucker’s 66-yard crossbar miracle, after taking a halftime lead on the 4-1 Packers, after nearly coming back against the 49ers, it felt like those cruel, vindictive entities known as the football gods were too busy kicking puppies to bother with the Lions on Sunday. When Greg Joseph’s 49-yard field goal attempt was a couple of feet short in the final 2½ minutes, the gods obviously forgot to mess with the Lions because they were too busy examining ants with a magnifying glass in the hot sun.

No play clock gaffes or 10-second runoffs on this day. Just a young, undermanned, overachieving team that had played a game to the hilt and was about to taste victory.

[ Déjà vu for emotional Campbell as Lions lose on another improbable kick, 19-17 ]

Or, as it turned out, bitter tears. Those football gods finally remembered their favorite NFL pet needed a little attention as Joseph lined up his winning kick.

“Yeah, I think we kind of feel the same way he does,” Goff said of Campbell. “It’s hard to give everything you’ve got every week, to have moments of feeling like you won the game and have it snatched from you.

“It’s tough, it’s tough. It’s as hard as it gets in this league is to go through stuff like that and try to bounce back from it. I’ve said it every week, but we’ve got a resilient bunch that will bounce back and Dan’s our leader.”

You can parse this game any way you want. You can talk about Goff’s turnovers or a soft zone on the Vikings’ final drive, or the sacks the offensive line allowed.

But take a moment to consider this roster. If I told you before the season that an offensive line consisting of Evan Brown and Matt Nelson would help give the Lions the lead in the final minute in Minnesota, you wouldn’t have believed me and then you would have asked who Evan Brown and Matt Nelson are.

You would have thought I was crazy if I told you Quintez Cephus would be their No. 1 receiver in that game — and only for a half.

You would have chuckled if I told you the Lions would be starting a fourth different cornerback in their fifth game and still be on the cusp of victory.

But right now, in Detroit and around the NFL, no one should be laughing at these Lions. They are far from perfect and probably not even that close to being good. But they’re playing hard, they’re learning how to do the right things and they aren’t giving up on each other.

So wipe away those tears and watch this full-hearted team with clear eyes. Put away those same old tropes, because they don’t fit this team. The Lions are teaching us all a lesson about their new resilience.

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

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