Dan Campbell’s willingness to roll the dice is about to put the Detroit Lions in the NFL record book.
The Lions converted 3 of 4 fourth-down plays in Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons, bringing their NFL-leading number of fourth down conversion attempts to 36.
The New England Patriots hold the record for most fourth-down tries in a season, converting 17 of 39 attempts in 1995.
Campbell has eschewed conventional wisdom in short-yardage situations often this season, choosing instead to follow a combination of analytics and his gut to become one of the most aggressive coaches in the NFL.
He said Monday he had no clue he was on the verge of NFL history.
“When you feel like you have trust in your players or in the play or where the game’s at, I don’t know, it feels right,” Campbell said. “And so, I want to do it. I think you’ve got to feel good about your players and the plan, and if you do, I think you go for it. And I want to send a message that we’re playing to win and we’re not playing to lose and there’s a time to be conservative and there’s a time to be aggressive. And so, it’s just I think a little more in my nature to roll the dice if you will. But I still feel like it’s a calculated risk.”
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The Lions converted a fourth down early Sunday on a fake punt, their third successful fake punt of the season, and went 2 for 2 on fourth down tries on their 10-minute field goal drive in the fourth quarter.
Their only failed conversion came on the final play of the first half, when Tim Boyle’s arm was hit on a Hail Mary.
Campbell opted against trying to convert a fifth time on fourth down when he chose to try a 26-yard field goal on fourth-and-5 from the Atlanta 8 with 2:42 to play.
The kick was good, and the Lions forced a fumble on the ensuing series to get the ball back with 2:18 to play. But Boyle threw a game-sealing interception six plays later.
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For the season, the Lions have converted 18 times on fourth down, with 10 of those conversions coming on fourth-and-1.
Asked how his philosophy will evolve when he has a more competitive roster, Campbell said, “I’d like to believe the aggressive nature’ll stay.”
“But that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’ll show up on fourth downs all of the time,” he said. “That can show up on first and second down on some different things that we do. But I think, there again, if the timing’s right and it’s one of those things that you really feel strongly about with your players and the play, the schemes, yeah, you do it.”
Tight end Shane Zylstra will miss the rest of the season after suffering a serious knee injury Sunday against the Falcons. ESPN reported Zylstra fractured his kneecap.
“We’ll see what it looks like,” Campbell said. “Two weeks from now we’ll know a lot more. Get the swelling out of the knee and then decide where you go from there, is it able to heal properly or does he need surgery. All that’s being checked out.”
Campbell said fullback Jason Cabinda could return from his knee injury, though he sounded a pessimistic tone about Cabinda playing this week against the Seattle Seahawks.
“Cabinda is a little more hopeful, at least certainly next week,” Campbell said. “We’ll have to see this week, but he’s better off. So that’s a positive. We’ll just see where it goes and how he feels every day from here on out.”
The Lions have one healthy tight end on their 53-man roster, undrafted rookie Brock Wright, and one tight end on their practice squad, Nick Eubanks.
Previously, they lost T.J. Hockenson to season-ending thumb surgery.