Henning: Lions continue to show signs that better days may indeed be ahead

Detroit News

Losing an NFL game is one thing. Losing players to hypothermia is something worse, which, fortunately neither the Seahawks nor Lions did Sunday in the rain and 37-degree mess that descended on Seattle and Lumen Field.

This was separate from the mess of a game the Lions ended up losing, 51-29, two days into 2022 and 16 games into a 17-game season that shows Detroit with a record of 2-13-1.

On the upside, apart from surviving a day better handled by seals, the Lions made an entertaining comeback. As much of a comeback as can be mounted when you’re down 31-7 at halftime.

But even with another splendid show from rookie receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown; even as one of those handy practice squad fill-ins — KhaDarel Hodge — made a gorgeous catch on a 42-yard pass from Tim Boyle to help give the Lions a flicker of life; even as an onside kick worked and as the Lions closed to within two scores in the fourth quarter, the game collapsed and the inadvertent chase for a first-overall draft pick in April continues for the Lions and head coach Dan Campbell.

That flip of the calendar seems worth a revisit as the Lions already can think about 2022 training camp convening in six months. There is a final four quarters to play in a week against the Packers at Ford Field. But ignore that exercise and turn to 2022. Because that’s the fixation for fans, not to mention for Lions bosses huddling at Allen Park.

More: Lions lock up top-two draft pick with loss to Seahawks in Week 17

Among reasons to greet 2022 and sack 2021 are developments that, for the Lions, rank more as probabilities than proposals:

►A deeper Campbell imprint: There’s an old catch phrase that might apply to recent Lions culture: “What you see is what you get.” And while we’re not here to chop-block ex-Lions leader Matt Patricia, it was always a bit unsettling, seeing this NFL head coach carrying excess tonnage that wasn’t exactly muscle, flaunting a beard that looked as if it had been ripped from a pro wrestler’s chin, with a pencil jutting from his ear.

It did not convey, well, great assurance that this was a man who should be leading NFL players. His three-season reign did nothing to suggest visuals were out of line with other elements of his time at Allen Park.

Campbell is from the more inspiring end of a coaching spectrum. He looks as if he could still suit up and block a Mack truck in that NFL tight end mode from which his coaching career sprang.

Granted, coaching cosmetics aren’t making a team playoff-grade. Of importance for a man in Campbell’s role is that his style of coaching and his personal comportment carry authority. In that respect, Campbell has earned nice grades as a rookie. He is one tough, straight-shooting, player-motivating NFL head dude.

If he weren’t, you would not have seen the occasional signs of relative progress the Lions have more than hinted they’re making during this miserable NFL calendar. You might not have seen the Lions don their scuba wet-suits at halftime Sunday and rally to make things, for a while, interesting.

Campbell will grow as all NFL coaches mature. His second year will be better than his first. And his first has been more solid than any win-loss record implies. That all the requisite coaching qualities were there in the person of Jim Caldwell, before he was dumped for Patricia, is another, more incendiary discussion about the history of Lions coaching choices.

►A reasonable roster improvement: No one is asking for a Lions roster to undergo heart, lung, and cranium transplants during the next eight months. Just reassure folks that the new front office can get it right, again, in making some smart picks with a draft that offers a reasonable edge with Detroit’s two first-round turns.

Brad Holmes knows personnel, which is why he got the Lions general manager job. So, the Lions crowd, which saw some good things in Holmes’ picks last April, wonders what he can do with the 2022 extra pick and with later-round tickets that can upgrade a roster as much as a single NFL draft allows.

There is free agency and enough wiggle room to suggest Holmes and co-pilot John Dorsey will find reasonable help as part of the draft/free agency duet.

We’ve known for generations that the NFL specializes in equal-opportunity competitiveness for teams that show passable competence in bolting together rosters. That failing, and that failing alone, has accounted for Detroit’s historic football ineptness.

The NFL’s parity pilings are still in place. Holmes and Dorsey, and Chris Spielman and their scouts, have the wherewithal to exploit a carefully constructed habitat and make the Lions playoff-worthy.

Simply prove, by way of this year’s work, that an uptick in personnel is in fact under way.

►Learning to live with Jared Goff: This will not be everyone’s preference. NFL science says a team must have, at the heart of its playoff push. a sturdy, pass-slinging, game-changing quarterback who’s a deep threat and a designated dynamo.

But, given that April’s draft isn’t cooperating —not for a team with Detroit’s quick pick, and not when whiz-bang quarterbacks are on the shy side as that first round takes shape — it appears Goff will be wearing Lions togs for at least another season.

Nothing worrisome if that’s the case. The reconstruction that Holmes & Co. are supervising doesn’t hinge, for now, on a quarterback. Goff can mind the store while other essential pieces, on offense and defense, are added and the Lions come closer to helping an eventual hot-shot quarterback more than they were able to aid Matthew Stafford during his years here.

So, here’s a clink of chilled mugs to 2022. To a better and healthier world, overall. And, just maybe, to better football ahead, which even after Sunday, and even after 2021’s weekly wounds, looks to be possible a year into Detroit’s newest NFL regime.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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