The Detroit Lions have made me a believer after winning a must-win game

Detroit Free Press

In the euphoria of the postgame victory celebration Sunday, Dan Campbell stood in the locker room and addressed his team. He rattled off all the reasons why the Detroit Lions had just earned their first victory, and then he stopped.

“This is all I’m going to say: That’s one,” the Lions coach said in a video posted on the team’s website. “That is freakin’ one, man. That’s one.”

Actually, it was a lot more than one, because one victory in the NFL can be really hard to come by. It took the Lions 12 games last year before they got their “freakin’ one.”

The early success is great, but what’s more important is that it came against a team the Lions were supposed to beat. It came decisively and it kept the momentum going for the team and its fans.

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Last week, I called the game against Washington a must-win because this was a chance to back up all that big talk about grit and what exactly is in the team’s DNA. Honestly, we’ve heard all these blustery pronouncements before. So you’ll excuse me, Coach Campbell, if some of the bravado seemed a little similar to Rod Marinelli’s talk of sharp shovels and Jim Schwartz bristling at being called scared.

After taking a 22-0 lead Sunday, it looked like the Lions were going to moonwalk their way to victory. When the Commanders cut the deficit to 29-21 early in the fourth quarter, it felt like this had the making of one of the most epic faceplants in Lions history — and that’s saying a lot.

Instead, they made good on what Campbell said about their resolve and the promise they showed in the season opener against Philadelphia. The offensive didn’t get conservative and turtle. The defense didn’t panic and continued to make stops.

After watching the Lions do what they were supposed to do and have their best players play their best and take a step forward when so many other Lions teams have tripped over their feet far too often, I can say this: I believe in what Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes are doing with the Lions this year.

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I gave the Lions full credit during Year 1 of a rebuild that resulted in a 3-13-1 record for staying motivated and avoiding too many blowouts. Now I have to give them credit for showing early promise and making good on all of their preseason talk.

Campbell showed up to his news conference Monday afternoon with all the receipts and started off by listing rushing averages, starting field position, net punt averages — wait, seriously? Punt averages? All right, he was obviously still a little too excited.

But Campbell got to the crux of the game and why the Lions won it after the Commanders got within one score.

“And so we kept that lead and we hung in there,” he said, “and we didn’t let it — we didn’t crumble and we didn’t let the stress and pressure break us. We hung in there and we finished the game, so that’s what excites me more than anything about how it went down yesterday.”

They didn’t crumble. Indeed, when Washington still trailed by only eight points midway through the fourth quarter, I turned to a colleague in the press box and said, “If they blow this, this stadium is going to implode.”

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The Lions had gone too high too fast in the first half Sunday. They soared like a rocket piloted by King Midas, ascending the heavens and turning everything they touched to gold on their they skyward. To crash and burn would have been a big step back and the one thing the Lions can’t do is take steps back in Year 2 of the rebuild.

Instead, everything about the win felt like a leap forward. Aidan Hutchinson’s three sacks shook the stadium and stirred the echoes of the team’s great defensive lines of the past. Amon-Ra St. Brown continued his excellent play, D’Andre Swift gutted out a strong game, Jared Goff put up impressive intended air-yard numbers and the offense looked dangerous.

So that’s one.

I don’t know how many more games the Lions will win, especially with a touch schedule awaiting them in the next few weeks. But even if they lose several more times before they win again, they’ve at least proved they can win the games they’re supposed to. And how often have we been able to say that about this team?

Contact Carlos Monarrez: Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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