Detroit Lions motivated by ’embarrassing’ loss to Philadelphia Eagles ahead of opener

Detroit Free Press

The low point of the Detroit Lions‘ forgettable 2021 season came a few hours before trick-or-treating started last Halloween.

The Lions, 0-7 at the time, lost, 44-6, to the Philadelphia Eagles in what head coach Dan Campbell called an “embarrassing” display of football. They fumbled three times, allowed a then-season-high 236 yards rushing and did not sniff the end zone until the game was well out of reach midway through the fourth quarter.

That performance sent the Lions down a bye week path of change, and as they prepare for their rematch in Sunday’s season-opener at Ford Field, Campbell said the loss remains both a sore spot and source of motivation for his team

“We haven’t hid from it,” Campbell said Monday. “I mean, it was embarrassing. It was an embarrassing loss. They let us have it, they rubbed our nose in it and that’s — listen, man, they came in and did everything that they wanted to do, they did to us, times 10. So I think we’ve acknowledged that and we understand that that’s what they’re coming back for. If I’m them, I’m doing the same thing. We’re going to come back and attack you the same way and see if you fixed any of your problems.”

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Both the Lions and Eagles have undergone significant change for the better in the 10 months since that game.

The Eagles used the victory as a springboard to the playoffs, winning six of their next eight games behind one of the league’s best rushing attacks to edge the New Orleans Saints for a wild card spot. They fortified their offense this spring by trading for receiver A.J. Brown, infused their defense with veteran (Haason Reddick, James Bradberry, C.J. Gardner-Johnson) and young talent (Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean) and now rank as one of the sleeper teams in the NFC.

The Lions made even more dramatic changes coming out of the bye. Campbell took over as offensive play caller and helped forge a new identity on both sides of the ball. They Lions won three of their final six games, and held five opponents in the second half of the season to 20 points or less.

Looking back, Campbell said the Eagles loss was “somewhat of a turning point last year.”

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“It opened our eyes to some things and I think it forced us to really — well, it forced us to have to make some changes both sides of the ball,” Campbell said. “We had to do things differently cause where we were going wasn’t going to cut it. Yeah, it’s somewhat a blessing in disguise, I guess. You make the most of something that’s a negative, you turn it into a positive, and I felt like we did that to a certain extent.”

Like the Eagles, the Lions upgraded their roster this offseason. They signed DJ Chark in free agency, invested in a new pass rush (both schematically and personnel-wise by drafting Aidan Hutchinson) and got healthier at the cornerback and offensive line positions.

Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said Sunday’s game will be a test of how much the Lions have improved in Year 2 of Campbell’s regime.

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“That last year’s Eagles game was definitely something that we won’t forget as a team, we haven’t forgotten,” he said. “So going into this week it’s, we know what happened last year and we’re not going to let that happen again.”

The Eagles largely overpowered the Lions on both side of scrimmage last year.

After a first-drive punt, Philadelphia scored on its final six possessions (not including one kneel-down snap at the end of the first half). Three different Eagles ran for more than 50 yards, and the Lions showed a lack of discipline when it came to stopping Jalen Hurts and Philadelphia’s quarterback run game. Offensively, the Lions struggled to protect Jared Goff (five sacks) and could not push the ball downfield against Philadelphia’s aggressive pass rush.

Campbell said he expects the Eagles to make “a couple of tweaks here and there,” but to otherwise follow the game plan that served them so well last season.

“I would fully expect them to come in and see if we fixed our problems, and so we understand that that’s where we’ve got to be better at,” he said. “And we understand the opponent that’s coming in. … This is a good football team that we’re getting ready to play.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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