Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell defends first half clock management in loss to Eagles

Detroit Free Press

One of the NFL’s most aggressive head coaches last season, Dan Campbell remains just as bold in Year 2.

The Detroit Lions coach called for a surprise onside kick in the third quarter of Sunday’s 38-35 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and after the game he defended his aggressive clock management in the final two minutes of the first half.

The Eagles recovered the onside kick and scored a touchdown five plays later, and they used the extra time gained by Campbell’s clock decisions to kick a field goal before halftime.

Trailing 21-7 and with a third-and-1 at the Eagles’ 7-yard line with just over 2 minutes to play in the first half, Campbell had the Lions run an offensive snap rather than take the ball to the two-minute warning.

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The Eagles stopped the Lions on third-and-1, but the Lions scored on the first play after the break. The Eagles started the ensuing possession with 1:51 on the clock — about 40 seconds more than they would have had, had the Lions waited until after the two-minute warning to run their third down play — and drove 73 yards for a Jake Elliott field goal with 6 seconds left in the half.

The Lions used two defensive timeouts on the Philadelphia’s field goal drive, one after a Tracy Walker sack left the Eagles in second-and-14 at their own 32 with 54 seconds to play, and the other after a long pass gave the Eagles first-and-goal from the 4 with 19 seconds left.

“The one offensively was, we finally got in a rhythm and I didn’t want to lose that rhythm going into the two-minute,” Campbell said. “Now, you can judge it however you want, but that was me. I’m like, ‘Look, he’s up there, we’re moving a little bit here so let’s go.’ And that was just my mindset on it. And it’d have been easy enough to do it, but that’s kind of how I felt.”

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Campbell said he took his first timeout after Walker’s sack because “I wanted the ball back (and) I had faith in my defense.”

The Eagles got the ball to start the third quarter and mounted a 10-play, 82-yard touchdown drive to take a 31-14 lead. The Lions followed with a touchdown of their own, then tried the failed onside kick “because I wanted the ball back,” Campbell said.

Last year, the Lions kept a game close with the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams when they converted two fake punts and recovered a surprise onside kick.

“Certainly (that swing was) tough, but I think — look, I kind of think of it, man, we just need to get ourselves back in position to, ‘Don’t let this thing get out of hand to where you don’t have a chance in the fourth quarter,'” Campbell said. “And so of course I don’t like that, I don’t want it to happen, but yet I’m thinking long game and as long as we just keep fighting in there you never know what’s going to happen.

“I felt like we were going to get a turnover at any minute and to balance the scales back out and it didn’t happen today, but that’s — we got to get some of those. When we make a mistake, we got to find a way to make them do the same thing, give us something back and we didn’t do that today.”

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

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