It took Dan Campbell three months to get a win in his first season as Detroit Lions coach. In his second season, it took Campbell two weeks.
Campbell said he considers the Lions’ 36-27 victory Sunday over the Washington Commanders “early validation as to what we’re doing,” especially considering the injury problems the Lions dealt with last week.
“We’re doing that without really all our bullets,” Campbell said at his weekly news conference Monday. “We’ve got some guys out and it just, everything that we’ve talked about. Next man up, do your job, help us win, and we did that with the guys that were available yesterday, the 48-man roster for gameday. So I think it’s big, but it’s just, I think it’s validation that we’re headed in the right direction, these guys believe and they’re doing what we’re asking them to do and it’s paying off.”
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The Lions played Sunday without three starters on their offensive line, with a hobbled D’Andre Swift at running back and down their No. 1 cornerback, Amani Oruwariye, because of a back injury.
They scored the game’s first 22 points, ran for 191 yards behind their makeshift line and got big contributions from Swift and several fill-ins. Will Harris, starting in place of Oruwariye, had a momentum-stymying interception in the second half off a deflected pass, Swift scored an improbable 22-yard touchdown after falling down while making a catch, and interior linemen Evan Brown, Dan Skipper and Logan Stenberg helped key the Lions’ run game.
“Listen, we’ve got the guys that are, they’re going to go to work and no matter what happens, they’re going to put in the work, they’re going to try to get better, they’re going to compete,” Campbell said. “So that’s never going to be the issue, but to be able to get our win, man, early in the season, Week 2, you get early validation as to what we’re doing.”
Beyond the wide-ranging contributions the Lions got in their victory, receiver Josh Reynolds said it was important to close out a game when the outcome was in doubt.
The Commanders cut their deficit to 22-15 with 2:58 to play in the third quarter, before Swift answered with a touchdown. When Washington scored on its next possession, the Lions responded again to put the game away.
“I think it was a great step in the right direction for us to finally learn how to get over that hump and close out a game,” Reynolds said. “So I’m proud of the guys. I think they got that first taste of it, of how good we can be and how to close out a game. I think that was a giant step.”
‘We got to dominate’
Left tackle Taylor Decker, one of two regulars on the Lions offensive line, said he pulled fellow starter Penei Sewell to the side before Sunday’s game and told him it was improtant they set the tone for the rest of the unit.
“I was like, ‘Me and you have to dominate,'” Decker said. “We got to dominate, because if we’re out there playing confident then the guys next to us can go out there and play confident and they’ll finish plays and we never have to worry about Skip finishing plays or giving an effort, but if the guys who have been in there are doing it, I think that instills confidence and letting those guys play free.”
Decker earned the Lions’ second-highest grade Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus, and neither he nor Sewell allowed a quarterback sack.
“I think it’s really big to instill confidence in those guys going into the game because obviously there’s going to be things in the week throughout practice and maybe in the game that don’t look pretty,” Decker said. “But I think it’s our job as guys who have started a lot of games to instill confidence in those guys and build them up.”
Campbell said Aidan Hutchinson suffered a charley horse in his three-sack game Sunday and should be good to go for this week’s game against the Vikings. Fellow defensive lineman John Cominsky was undergoing further tests on his right thumb Monday and his status for the weekend is undetermined. Cominsky underwent X-rays Sunday and was reluctant to use his hand while moving about the locker room.
Among players who did not play against the Commanders, Campbell said center Oruwariye (back) and Frank Ragnow (toe) feel “bettter,” while it’s too early to say if left guard Jonah Jackson will be able to play through his finger injury.
“It’s honestly just kind of take it as it is,” Campbell said. “I mean, we’d like to see where he’s at Wednesday, maybe, see how it feels, see if it’s something he feels like he can function with. And so we just ― we really won’t know until it’ll be something where he feels like he can function with it and have success.”