Dan Campbell is easy to like. He’s honest, raw, empathetic and serious. Clearly, he cares. As much as anyone who has held his seat.
Right now, though, the Detroit Lions’ head coach is lost. What’s worse, he’s got nowhere to go.
About the only thing he doesn’t have to worry about is going winless for the season. That’s already been done. (I don’t need to remind you when or where.)
Still, the ignominy of 0-17 is a real possibility after Sunday’s 44-6 loss to the Eagles. Though calling it a loss is a disservice to losing. Losing can be painful, even rewarding, at times educational.
“That was brutal,” said Campbell.
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That’s one way to put it. So is this:
It was nothingness — nihilism, if you will. A 44-6 drubbing that is easily the worst loss of the season and rivals the worst losses in recent franchise history.
And by the time Darius Slay Jr. scooped up a D’Andre Swift fumble and scooted 33 yards to the end zone — the easiest touchdown of his career, surely — the fans had stopped booing. They know emptiness when they see it.
They’ve seen it plenty the last several decades. What was so dispiriting Sunday was the lack of spirited fight we’d seen all season; the Lions, while still winless, had previously showed some competitiveness, offered a little hope that the front office and coaching staff knew what they were doing. That, at the very least, they weren’t going to lose because they weren’t prepared or organized.
Now? It’s fair to wonder how many more efforts we’ll see like Sunday’s. The Lions weren’t ready. Campbell, to his credit, didn’t duck that description.
“You don’t play that bad unless it comes from the top,” he said.
A talent gap is one thing. Fans understand the laws of nature in football — or any team sport: Not every team can be stacked every season.
But they won’t tolerate multiple penalties because too many defenders are on the field. Nor illegal formations negating 30-yard pass gains (mostly because a 30-yard gain with this offense feels like a miracle).
2008 vs. 2021: Who ya got?
“That is a Day 1 deal there,” Campbell said, shaking his head.
Nor the quarterback throwing the ball out of bounds, intentionally, on fourth down. That’s something Jared Goff has done twice in the last three weeks.
On fourth down.
Do you realize what I’m saying? Goff is purposely choosing to throw the ball out of bounds instead of taking a sack or forcing the ball down the field … on … fourth … down.
“That was a mistake physically, not mentally,” Goff said.
Well, that helps, a little, but when he threw it away Sunday the play drew the loudest boos of the game, which is saying something, considering how often the crowd booed. Do you blame them? Of course, you don’t. If you were masochistic enough to drive to a game and put on a jersey and sit in the stands you’d boo, too.
You’d have so many reasons. Such as the sequence in the second quarter when the Lions offense accidentally picked up a couple of first downs, quickly realized its mistake, and then offered up this:
Dropped pass. False start. Stumble down. Sack. Punt.
Or, the sequence near the end of the first half when the Lions actually crossed midfield and stumbled into the red zone, then faced a third-and-short with 30 seconds left. With two timeouts, they slowly got to the line of scrimmage, didn’t call a timeout, tried a running play and gained nothing.
Which led Campbell to call a timeout with 11 seconds left on fourth-and-short, then led him to agree to a pass play instead of kicking a field goal — OK, fine, they were losing by three scores. Naturally, the pass didn’t work. Goff got sacked and the half was over and the fans booed and you would have, too.
“I hate what I did before halftime,” said Campbell. “I hate it. I should’ve used the timeout (on third down).”
Nah, that’s too easy. The Lions weren’t ready, period. Campbell is right. That begins with him.
Then again, nor were the Lions organized or focused or, frankly, engaged — at least not in the way they had been for all but one of their losses. (The head coach called the team “low-energy.”)
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That woeful effort came two weeks ago right here in the house of horrors — also known as Ford Field — when Cincinnati effectively ended the game by halftime while stomping the Lions.
Every other game had been competitive, if not heartbreaking, and at times promising. Just last week, this same roster and coaching staff almost upset the seemingly playoff-bound Los Angeles Rams. Was that motivated because of Matthew Stafford?
Maybe. But probably less than you think.
Still, the Rams are a playoff team. The Bengals look like one, too.
They’d won two games before Sunday in seven tries, which didn’t keep the Lions from making Jalen Hurts look like an All-Pro, especially when he kept slipping out of the pocket and out-maneuvering and outrunning the sluggish back end of the defense.
So, now what? Where do the Lions go? Where does Campbell turn to?
The bye week? Well, yes, he hopes to find solace in the extra time, and answers in the extra time to study … everything, because whatever he did this past week didn’t work. Worse, he didn’t connect.
In the postgame news conferences after losses so far, Campbell has been frustrated and disappointed and teary-eyed and angry and almost despondent. For most of the first eight weeks, his reactions led to competitive games.
This Sunday, he was blunt and unfiltered.
“I’m not worried about losing this team,” he said. “I am worried about that I didn’t deliver the right message to get them ready to go … not that I don’t have the right message, or that I can’t get this team back up or that I don’t — that’s not what I’m concerned about. I did think I had them and now, (in) hindsight, I obviously didn’t. It’s a lesson learned.”
That’s reasonable. He’s a young coach. He is learning. But as much as he is learning he can’t put a team on the field that gets whipped like that too often.
Yes, he cares. Maybe more than his team cares. He knows this. And he knows that if he can’t keep reaching this team, a win is never going to happen.
Zero and 17 is officially on the table.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.