MINNEAPOLIS — He rearranged the recorders in front of him, scratched nervously at the corner of his mouth and looked off into the distance with glassy eyes.
For 7 long seconds, Dan Campbell tried to keep his emotions in check Sunday, but after the Detroit Lions lost their second heartbreaker on an improbable field goal this season — a déjà vu moment right down to the final score — there was little he could do to keep them from spilling out.
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The Lions rallied from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to take a one-point lead with 37 seconds to play, then lost to the Minnesota Vikings, 19-17, on a 54-yard field goal by Greg Joseph as time expired.
The loss dropped the Lions to 0-5 for the first time since 2015 and culminated with a sequence of events eerily similar to the Lions’ 19-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens two weeks earlier. The Lions rallied to take a late lead in that game, only to give up a big pass play against a three-man rush and lose on Justin Tucker’s record-setting 66-yard field goal.
“When you see your players give all that they have and you lose that way, it’s tough,” Campbell said, his voice cracking with emotion. “You don’t want that for them, but we’ll be better for it. And there again, credit Minnesota, but we made the one mistake that cost us. And so ultimately, we didn’t do enough to win. But I was proud of them, and I love the fight that they have in them. And I love the grit.”
The Lions have not lacked for fight or grit this season, and showed plenty of both in Sunday’s gut-wrenching defeat.
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Trailing 16-6 after a missed Joseph field goal with 3:17 to play, the Lions pulled within seven on Austin Seibert’s 40-yard field goal just before the two-minute warning, then earned one final possession when Jalen Reeves-Maybin ripped a fumble out of Alexander Mattison’s hands with the Vikings trying to kill the clock.
The Lions started their final possession at the Minnesota 18. D’Andre Swift scored three plays later on a 7-yard run, and Jared Goff completed a two-point conversion pass to KhaDarel Hodge in the back of the end zone to put the Lions ahead, 17-16, with 37 seconds left.
Goff said Campbell told him they were going for two before the start of the possession, and the Lions ran a play they worked repeatedly in practice last week — only with Quintez Cephus, who left Sunday’s game with a serious shoulder injury, in Hodge’s spot on the field.
The Vikings, with two timeouts left, started their final drive at their 18-yard line. Kirk Cousins found Adam Thielen for a 21-yard pass over the middle on the first play from scrimmage, then hit Dede Westbrook for a 6-yard gain on the next play.
On first-and-10 from the Lions’ 36, with plenty of time to throw against a three-man rush, Cousins hit Thielen for a 19-yard gain, then spiked the ball with 3 seconds left to kill the clock.
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Campbell said he thought Joseph, who missed a 37-yard field goal on the final play of a loss to the Arizona Cardinals earlier this year and left a 49-yarder short in the fourth quarter Sunday, was “going to miss” his career-long kick.
When the ball split the uprights with distance to spare, Campbell hung his head and walked to midfield as Joseph’s teammates hoisted him in the air.
“It hurts,” Lions linebacker Trey Flowers said. “It hurts. But like I said, but nobody feels sorry that it hurts. We just got to break through. We’re there. We’re at the door, just got to break through, got to keep swinging.”
Campbell is the third Lions coach in the Super Bowl era to begin his tenure with five straight losses. Rod Marinelli, who went 0-5 to start the 2006 season, and Marty Mornhinweg, who lost 12 straight in 2001, are the others.
He said his emotion Sunday was a reflection of players and the franchise he played for in 2006-08, and his belief that they are on the right path to turning things around.
“When you put everything out there on the line like they did and like they do, you want it for them and you want it for everybody,” he said. “Everybody gives of themselves, a lot of time, lot of effort. Hey, that’s what we do. And you just, you want it. You want it for everybody, man. And you want to earn one and we’re this close. We haven’t done it, so we’re still — we’re not quite there. We haven’t quite got over the hump, but I do think in the long run this is going to pay dividends for us. As ugly as it is right now and hard to swallow, I do think we’re building something special here that’s going to serve us well in the long term.”
Goff finished 21 of 35 passing for 203 yards Sunday, but committed two turnovers in field-goal range for the second straight week. He lost a fumble on a sack by Everson Griffen late in the first quarter at the Minnesota 31, and threw an interception to Eric Kendricks from the Minnesota 28 early the third quarter.
In five games this season, Goff has seven turnovers, including a red-zone fumble he was charged with in last week’s loss to the Chicago Bears when Frank Ragnow prematurely snapped the ball off his leg.
Four of those turnovers have come in opponent territory, and a fifth was an interception returned for a touchdown.
“It’s obviously stuff you don’t want to happen, but I’m going to keep letting it fly,” Goff said. “I think the fumble was just a lack of ball security by me and I thought they made a great play on the interception. He made a one-handed catch. Not ideal down there in the plus-territory, but things like that are going to happen.”
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Cousins finished 25 of 34 passing for 275 yards for the Vikings (2-3). Mattison, starting in place of the injured Dalvin Cook, ran for 113 yards on 25 carries and scored Minnesota’s only touchdown on a 15-yard catch late in the first half when broke two tackles and carried two more Lions defenders into the end zone as a fifth stood and watched.
Justin Jefferson added 124 yards receiving for the Vikings, while Swift had 51 yards rushing and 53 receiving for the Lions.
“I try to just keep picturing in my head, because I know it’s coming is, we’re going to be on the winning side of these before long,” Campbell said. “Hopefully sooner than later, but it’s coming. I just don’t know when, but it’s coming. When you play that way and fight that way and clean a couple of these little mishaps that have shot us in the foot, our days of being on the winning side of that are coming.”