Dan Campbell is wrong: His Detroit Lions are not an 0-7 team. Here’s why

Detroit Free Press

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The Detroit Lions are not an 0-7 team

They don’t look like an 0-7 team. They don’t play like an 0-7 team. And they don’t feel like an 0-7 team, especially if you speak with their opponents. Especially if you watch their games. Especially if you watched Sunday’s 28-19 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium.

Week after week, we’ve heard the same refrain from just about every opponent that has handed the Lions a loss. They’re better than their record reflects. And often times, teams feel fortunate to have escaped with a win.

So, I’m going to disagree with the coach who has made this happen. I understand Dan Campbell needs to keep his team motivated and can’t afford complacency. No one is saying the Lions have arrived. But after the loss the Rams, after the Lions used every trick in the book with two successful fake punts and a recovered onside kick, he wasn’t looking for credit or the feel-good salve of a moral victory.

“Look, we are what we’re our record says we are,” he said Sunday. “That’s the bottom line about this league.”

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Actually, it isn’t. Not this year for the Lions. This year is a learning year for the Lions. We’re all learning which players are worth keeping, which strategies are working, and which coaches are doing the right things to move this team along and into the future a year or two from now, when, yes, the bottom line certainly will be the record.

But for now, the record isn’t what the Lions are. I know because I asked the Rams.

“No,” Rams coach Sean McVay said postgame. “I think you guys could feel that today. Really competitive. I think it’s a huge credit to their coaching staff, their players, their leadership. Coach Campbell did an excellent job. And you can see, there’s a belief.

“I mean, any time that you go wire to wire with us, with a team like Minnesota, you look at the Ravens, you know, they had a chance to really win all three of those games and they’ve been in a lot of other ones. So absolutely not.”

I asked Rams defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day if the Lions felt like an 0-7 team.

“Oh, no. Not at all,” he said. “They came with it. That was a dogfight, man, that was a dogfight out there.

“In this league I don’t think records technically reflect certain teams because at the end of the day they’re all talented, they all have the capability to win and it’s easy to get humbled in this league.”

And the Rams were humbled. When they were down 10-0 and the offense didn’t touch the ball until midway through the first quarter, they were humbled. Because even with those close losses to the Ravens and Vikings, no one expected a winless, 15-point underdog team on the road against an MVP-candidate quarterback facing his old team for the first time to put up much of a fight.

Yet it was the Rams who found themselves fighting off their backs for most of the game. They didn’t take their first lead until the end of the second quarter and they were trailing in the fourth quarter.

“And fortunately,” McVay said, “we were able to weather the storm today.”

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McVay knows the truth. Because if the Rams had lost this game, there would have been a whole other kind of scatological storm coming his way.

Don’t get me wrong. The Rams did not panic. There was a steady confidence in their play. Frankly, even though they were in a tough fight, they knew the Lions were punching above their weight, and that they couldn’t keep it up for the whole 12 rounds.

Jalen Ramsey, who is probably the best cornerback in the NFL and sealed the victory with his end zone interception, gave the Lions credit for their pluck and their fight. When asked about the Lions’ trickery, he marveled at it. But he knew those gimmicks could only work for so long.

“They thought that that could be an edge,” he said. “And for a little bit it was. Then we just overcame that.”

But there was something else that needs to be said about the Lions’ loss in L.A. for those fans who didn’t attend the game: All Lions fans should hold their heads up high, because the team was well-represented by their fans who flooded the stadium and made their voices heard even among the 70,540 at the stadium.

SoFi Stadium is a stunning piece of architecture, so beautiful and extensive that it’s as hard to comprehend — and get around — as the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, it’s also colorless, purposely kept neutral gray because it accommodates the Rams and the Chargers.

Lions fans changed that. They splashed SoFi with Honolulu Blue and Silver. They imbued the stadium with some Motown color as they watched their team represent their city in its truest way, fighting with grit and doing it well.

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A record tells you if you won or lost a game. But it doesn’t tell you who you are and what you can be.

Anyone who was at Sunday’s game can tell you the Lions lost, but they won something that’s maybe even more important: Everyone’s respect.

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

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