Shorthanded Detroit Lions lack that Dan Campbell competitive fire until way too late

Detroit Free Press

SEATTLE — They were overwhelmed for all but a couple minutes in the first half and, for a while, it looked like the Detroit Lions weren’t ready to play or compete. Maybe they weren’t.

This was surprising, truthfully.

You have to go back to October to find a performance this sad. True, the Lions lost by 28 at Denver three weeks ago but that score belies what happened in the game.

Just as Sunday’s 51-29 loss to Seattle doesn’t quite reveal what happened at Lumen Field in the damp, gray cold of the Pacific Northwest.

It was 31-7 at the half and 38-7, less than a minute into the third quarter. It was over in a hurry. Somehow it was worse than that.

Maybe it was Russell Wilson taking a knee at the 1-yard line to end the game, preventing a final, ignominious touchdown, which would’ve been the most points the Lions had given up since the 1960s.

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More than the speed of the takedown, though, was the manner. The Lions were bullied at the point of attack — on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Their linebackers and safeties were routinely out of place or exposed for taking difficult angles and making poor reads.

Seattle’s running back, Rashaad Penny, not only found holes at the line he found even more room in the secondary, an expanse as wide as Puget Sound. Penny ran for 9 yards a pop in the first half, finishing with 144 yards.

Meanwhile, Wilson took his time in the pocket, because he had about as much time as he wanted. When he was ready to throw, he zipped a couple of touchdown passes and threw for 167 yards as if he were tossing the ball in his backyard.

One of the more endearing revelations this season for the Lions has been Dan Campbell’s imaginative play calling as of late, and his ability to see beyond the dismal season in which he and his team are stuck.

And he did his darndest to find a way to stay in the game. His best stretch came in the third quarter, when the Lions, as usual, made a push to make it respectable.

In one sequence he called for a pass in the red zone to offensive lineman Matt Nelson. The big fella dropped it at the goal line. After a holding penalty pushed the Lions back a facemask gave them a fresh set of downs from the 7-yard ine.

Again, Campbell called for the ball to go to a lineman. This time, Taylor Decker got the chance. He hauled it in for a touchdown.

Faith?

Sure, Campbell has it. And he’s desperate to instill it in his team.

Like when he called for a two-point conversion attempt after Amon-Ra St. Brown scored on a pass from Tim Boyle to cut the lead to 38-13.

That may seem silly to go for two down 25 points. But Campbell was sending a message, because he’s into messaging, but also because he figured that if his team caught a break — or five — and Seattle stumbled and well, who knows, right?

For a moment, Seattle did stumble, and missed an onside kick attempt Campbell dialed up after the successful two-point conversion. The Lions recovered and scored another touchdown.

Improbably, it was a two-score game late in the third quarter. Given what’s happened this season, a comeback — not a win — felt possible.

Should they get credit for fighting back to give themselves a small chance?

Sure, why not?

Then again, they gave up a 75-yard touchdown drive the next series and the plucky comeback evaporated.

Look, the Lions weren’t going to beat Seattle on the road without starting quarterback Jared Goff, who was out with a sprained knee. And they weren’t going to beat Seattle with him.

The losses haven’t mattered for a while, unless you’re worried about draft position. For what it’s worth, the Lions locked up no worse than the second pick Sunday.

What does matter, and has mattered all season, is what Campbell and Brad Holmes are trying to build. The competitive edge and soul of this team has been impressive for most of the last couple of months.

It was not today, and that won’t sit well with Campbell. Nor should it.

It’s one thing to get beat up or out-skilled, as the Lions were against Seattle. It’s another thing to look lost and dispirited, as they were for the first half.

In a year where effort and intensity and focus matter most, the Lions didn’t have it for a long stretch on the edge of the continent. Yeah, it’s a long way from home. It’s also not an excuse. Nor would Campbell want anyone making one for him or his players.

So we wont.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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