Cleveland — Minutes after the final whistle, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell emphatically stated Tim Boyle would be better his next start than he was in his debut, a 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
That next start might be in four days, on Thanksgiving against the Chicago Bears. And to be fair, how could he be worse than Sunday, when Boyle attempted 23 passes and finished with 77 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions?
That line was symptomatic of a conservative game plan designed to protect a young, inexperienced quarterback who spent the past 10 weeks on injured reserve.
“Look, I wanted to be smart,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “I didn’t want to throw this kid to the wolves. That’s not fair to him, either. I thought for what we asked him to do, he was solid.
“I’m not disappointed in the kid,” Campbell continued. “I’m not disappointed him. I mean, he hadn’t played since August and look, he was better in the fourth quarter than he was in the first, so as he got a little bit of rhythm he was better.”
By leaving the training wheels on against the Cleveland Browns, Campbell’s own play-calling comes under scrutiny. In the two games the head coach has been the voice talking to the quarterback before each snap, the Lions have averaged fewer than 70 passing yards in regulation.
Of course there have been a number of factors at play, from Jared Goff’s oblique injury a week earlier, to inclement conditions in both contests, to Boyle’s inexperience. Still, it’s tough to win in the NFL if you can’t throw for more than 200 yards.
“Look, I get it,” Campbell said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of people that question I was too conservative, and maybe I ought to throw it a lot more, but I’m just not ready to do that with where we were at here.
“… How do you get yourself to have the best chance to win at the end, where you’re in it?” Campbell asked. “And so I just didn’t feel like it was right. I didn’t feel it was the right thing to do. Do I see myself trying to win games, you know, 14-13 or 16-13? No. But we’ll do whatever it takes to win a game. I just felt like the right thing to do was try to run it a little bit, try to take a little stress off Tim, get him going. But yeah, look, it’s no secret. We have to be better in the pass game.”
If there was any doubt, Campbell confirmed Goff remains the team’s starter once he’s healthy. But with a short turnaround — the shortest of the NFL calendar in fact, from a 1 p.m. start on Sunday to a 12:30 p.m. start on Thursday — it’s unclear whether the starter’s injury will heal enough for him to get cleared in time.
A taunt too far
In one of the afternoon’s stranger moments, the officiating crew threw a flag on Lions guard Jonah Jackson during the break between the third and fourth quarters. When the game returned from commercial, the referee announced Jackson was being penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The 15-yard infraction was a devastating blow to an offense, pushing them back 15 yards, out of Browns territory, and setting them up first-and-25 to open the fourth quarter. Three plays later, the Lions would be forced to punt.
After the game, Campbell confirmed Jackson was penalized for something he said. And while Jackson denied remembering his exact comments, both Campbell and Browns defensive end Myles Garrett noted Jackson had made a disparaging remark about Browns teammate Jadevon Clowney’s mother.
The spirited trash talking, which Campbell said was going on throughout the contest on both sides, was caught up in the league’s crackdown on taunting.
Jackson expressed remorse for putting his team in a bad situation and also acknowledged that he buried the hatchet with Clowney after the game.
The Lions lost right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai to a concussion in the second quarter. He was replaced by undrafted rookie Tommy Kraemer, who had been temporarily elevated from the practice squad on Saturday.
After battling a foot injury his first season with the Lions, Vaitai has been highly durable his second year with the team, playing 612 of the team’s 616 offensive snaps coming into the contest.
Additionally, cornerback AJ Parker (ankle) suffered an ankle injury late in the contest. The rookie nickel also recently missed a game with a shoulder injury. And defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand exited with a groin issue. He missed the first seven games with the same injury.