Detroit Lions fans have plenty to be thankful for, including owner Sheila Ford Hamp

Detroit Free Press

It’s easy to lose perspective and forget how fortunate we are to have what we have. It’s understandable. Everyone’s busy and there’s a lot going on in the world.

But if you’re a Detroit Lions fan, you should appreciate what you have on this Thanksgiving Day.

In case you’ve forgotten, a year ago this team was in dire straits. Heading into Thanksgiving, the Lions has lost, 20-0, at Carolina and were about to be dismantled, 45-21, by the Houston Texans in the final game of the Matt Patricia-Bob Quinn era as fans left Ford Field carrying pitchforks and torches.

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Well, you all got what you wanted. But getting rid of one thing and replacing it with another isn’t always the answer. It’s hard for some people to imagine Lions fans have much to be thankful for amid a 0-9-1 season..

However, in the first year of a rebuild, this team has played with consistent effort and has come close to victory so many times in games predicted to get ugly. The drama has been kept at a minimum and you see the building blocks taking shape for the future.

So be thankful. In the spirit of the holiday, and because I know how much everyone loves my grades, I’ll asses the Lions based on a maximum of 10 turkey legs.

Run game

After so many years and so many attempts to put together a strong 1-2 punch in the run game, it’s finally here and it’s landing some haymakers.

D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams have given the Lions’ run game the thunder-and-lightning component everyone wanted to see. Each player averages 4.1 yards per carry and the Lions rank 16th with 114.2 rushing yards per game.

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The offensive line, banged up as it’s been, deserves credit. But Swift and Williams have done a great job of getting some of those extra yards on their own. Swift’s electricity is as undeniable as Williams’ energy and enthusiasm.

The run game has eaten up time of possession and kept the defense off the field. With a better passing game, this would be a much different story. Oh, and Williams gets extra credit for the NFL’s coolest pregame tradition of throwing passes to fans in the stands.

Turkey legs: Eight.

Jack Fox

I’ve never understood why specialists are underappreciated. I remember for years how Jason Hanson would start some of his sentences with, “I’m just the kicker, but …” It was like he wasn’t a real football player or something.

To me, specialists are some of the most important players because they’re relied on for their consistency. Fox isn’t having quite the same statistical season he had as a Pro Bowler last year, but he’s been the best player at his position for the Lions and a true weapon in the field-position battle.

The Lions have been lucky to have some great specialists like Hanson, Eddie Murray, Matt Prater and Don Muhlbach. Fox belongs in that conversation and he’s a big reason the Lions have had chances to win this season.

Turkey legs: Seven.

Dan Campbell

I drove home from Cleveland with Dave Birkett after Sunday’s game and we had a lot of time to talk. It was mostly me listening to Dave’s quixotic quest to buy a PlayStation 5 for his son at retail price. Even Don Quixote would have given up and gone to eBay by now.

Eventually, we got around to talking a little about the Lions and specifically Campbell. It was Dave who had pressed Campbell about the nature of Jonah Jackson’s unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty against the Browns. We laughed about how Campbell couldn’t keep himself from telling the truth and revealed the infraction to be of the yo-mama nature.

The more I thought about it, the more I’m convinced Campbell’s handling of the situation was masterful and entirely intentional. By telling reporters what the penalty was — a stupid, unnecessary and costly one — he forced a young player to be accountable and served notice to the rest of the players that they will also have to answer for dumb penalties if they commit them.

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Jackson spoke with reporters after Campbell. The coach also stopped just short of criticizing officials for having selective hearing on the field, essentially sticking up for his player and his team.

It’s easy to look at Campbell and think “meathead.” The pushed-back cap, the Texas drawl, his folksy nature. But just think about what he has done and how he has handled so much adversity this year.

When I asked him about his homophobic comments in college, he apologized and answered straightforwardly. When he forgot to schedule joint practices, he admitted it. He cut Don Muhlbach on his 40th birthday, then he didn’t sugarcoat it and owned the mistake. There was little drama to the Jamie Collins situation. There was little drama to Campbell saying he needed Jared Goff to step up. There was little drama to Anthony Lynn’s demotion.

Campbell has talked about the problem of having too many alpha males running a team. “A true alpha,” he has said, “knows when it’s time to concede for the betterment of the team.” The lack of drama and panic has been the result of Campbell’s hard work behind the scenes.

The Lions have the worst record in the NFL, but they aren’t the worst team. They’ve suffered just three blowouts and have remained a united team, consistent in its effort. Ladies and gentlemen, your true alpha: Dan Campbell.

Turkey legs: Nine.

Sheila Ford Hamp

Yes, I’m serious. And no, I’m not trying to trigger you.

The team owner is an easy target and a lightning rod for criticism. Lions fans who have endured 60-plus years of futility are right to be angry, frustrated and skeptical of Hamp’s efforts.

But you have to remember, she’s new at her job. It’s her first full year as the principal owner. And let’s not forget the last time William Clay Ford’s progeny exerted their influence, Bill Ford publicly shamed his dad into firing Matt Millen. So there’s promise yet in that gene pool.

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I don’t know how this all works out. But I like that Hamp is taking a different tack and admitting she needed someone with football savvy, such as, Chris Spielman to join the ranks and help her understand the inner workings of an NFL team.

I also like her temperament. For someone who had to wait nearly 50 years before she got a chance to run the team, she has taken it in stride. She didn’t lash out when she was booed in September inside the stadium that bears her family’s name, and in front of her mother. She understood why fans were booing.

As I’ve written many times, there’s a great misunderstanding about the Fords. It’s not that they don’t care about winning because they’re making so much money, it’s that they don’t know how to construct a winner.

There’s no guarantee of anything under Hamp. Even if she eventually gets it right, it might take several cycles of hiring head coaches and GMs before she builds a consistent winner. But I think her heart and her effort is in the right place. And that’s more than you can say about some owners.

Turkey legs: Eight.

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

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