Dan Campbell’s honeymoon coming to an end? Why Sunday feels like a must-win for Lions

Detroit Free Press

I’m still in the Dan Campbell camp.

I love his attitude and honesty. Love what we saw on “Hard Knocks,” love his message, love what he’s done with the culture around this team.

He’s just so dang likeable.

But at some point, you gotta stop talking about grit, and you gotta win.

At some point, morale victories should not be acceptable, especially against an inferior opponent in a winnable game; and that makes Sunday’s game against the Washington Commanders as close to a must-win game as you can get in the second game of an NFL season.

Even during a rebuild.

Last year, Campbell got a free pass. He was a first-year coach taking over a team following the disastrous Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia era. The 2021 losses didn’t matter in the big picture.

But now? It’s time to see some progress, and last week’s mistake-filled loss against Philadelphia was concerning.

I hesitate to say the honeymoon is over for Campbell. Because I don’t want that to sound like his job is in jeopardy.

It’s not, nor should it be at this point. But the criticism should get sharper, and Lions fans should expect more.

Let’s put it this way: The wedding was inspiring, and the reception was amazing — people were smiling and laughing. The happy couple was downright giddy. But now? Some time has passed and it’s like when one spouse looks at the other and goes: “Dang, man, you snore like a bear.”

And then the other says: “Why can’t you throw your socks in the hamper?”

Some of the glow is wearing off.

Cleaning up to win the close ones

Campbell has proved that he can inspire a team. Clearly, the players love him. But the NFL is not a popularity contest.

A key question remains: Can he push the right buttons to win close games? It seems fair to ask because in his short stint in Detroit, Campbell is 2-6-1 in games decided by seven points or less.

Granted, you could say that’s a reflection of the Lions’ lack of talent. Some would say Campbell should be given credit for keeping the Lions in these games, and there might some truth in that.

At same time: The Lions have had a chance to win at least half of the games that Campbell has coached and they have won just two of them.

That realization will take the glow off any relationship.

Or, to put it another way (and not that I’ve ever heard this or anything): “Get out the vacuum and clean up this mess!”

And that’s exactly what Campbell is trying to do.

“Let’s clean up our details,” Campbell told reporters Wednesday. “Because if we do that, winning is a byproduct of that. That’s got to be our sole focus, and so man, let’s just play better than we played last week. To a man, let’s coach better, I’ve got to coach better, our coordinators have got to coach better, the position coaches and the players got to play better. And if we’ll just — every one of us get a little bit better and clean up these issues.”

I still believe he can turn this organization around; the Lions are favored Sunday for the first time in what feels like forever (24 games to be precise).

“Listen, we coach every week to win, so to me every game is a must-win,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “And I don’t know if that’s the right way or wrong way, but that’s how I coach, and that’s how I look at it.”

If they can’t win a game in which they are favored, if they keep making mental mistakes, if they keep losing close games, why should fans continue to have any hope that this is headed in the right direction?Because of sound bytes and slogans printed on the walls?

Wins are all that matter.

BREAK

Thanks to “Hard Knocks,” Lions fans had great vibes and energy entering this season.

It was so loud Sunday at Ford Field, offensive tackle Penei Sewell had to bend down in the huddle just to hear Jared Goff make calls. But all of those positive vibes seemed to disappear when the Eagles took a 21-7 lead.

If the Lions keep losing, all that positive momentum will disappear. That’s the fickle nature of what Campbell is facing. The Lions can’t afford to open the season with two home games and go 0-2. They can’t continue to make as many mistakes as they did against the Eagles. Campbell knows this.

“We have to play better than we played last week,” Campbell said. “We have to — our details have to be much more precise, on point. The effort was fine, I mean, but man, the details and the discipline have to show up, because it doesn’t matter who you play, if you don’t do that, you’re not going to win. And if they do it better than we do, they’ll beat us.”

Campbell has a lot to prove in his game management — there’s a fine line between being risky and reckless — and these players have a lot to prove as well.

Lions fans just want this team to be relevant for a few months. They want to see signs of improvement. They want to see some reason for hope, something more concrete than slogans.

If the Lions start the season on a familiar skid, if this team keeps making mistakes, if we see more empty comebacks, it will suck the life out of this fan base. Once again.

The honeymoon’s not over.

But we are getting close.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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