Grading Detroit Lions’ loss to Minnesota Vikings: Dan Campbell gets F for late-game call

Detroit Free Press

MINNEAPOLIS —Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett grades the Detroit Lions in their 28-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.

Quarterback

Jared Goff was more statistically prolific in last week’s win over Washington, but I thought he played his best game of the year Sunday. Goff completed 25 of 41 passes for 277 yards with one touchdown. He threw a desperation interception with nine seconds to play, but was sharp running the offense — despite a hobbled receiving corps — most of the day. Goff was kicking himself for a missed pass to DJ Chark in the second half, and he said he should have gone to Lions coach Dan Campbell and demanded to stay on the field before Austin Seibert’s errant final field goal attempt. Overall, though, Goff limited his mistakes and had the Lions in a position to win late. Grade: A-minus

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Running backs

Three games into the season, the Lions have proven they can run the ball in a variety of ways, no matter who lines up in the backfield or on the offensive line. D’Andre Swift was limited to seven carries by ankle and shoulder injuries, but Jamaal Williams picked up the slack, rushing for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 20 attempts. Williams was a bull in the red zone and short-yardage situations, though he was stopped on a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter. He showed some elusiveness, too, evading a half-hearted tackle attempt by Cam Dantzler on a 17-yard swing pass to start the Lions’ second drive. Swift continues to show his toughness, playing through injury, but at some point the Lions might be better off giving him a week off to heal up. Grade: B-plus

Receivers/tight ends

The Lions made a point to get Chark involved early, with Goff throwing him two passes for 40 yards on the opening drive. But the Lions’ No. 1 deep threat had just one more catch and was a relative non-factor the rest of the game. Amon-Ra St. Brown’s streak of eight games with at least eight catches came to an end, but he had an important fourth-and-6 conversion early, and both he and Josh Reynolds (six catches, 96 yards) played through ankle injuries. Reynolds was the Lions’ most effective receiver. His rub route on the goal line freed T.J. Hockenson up for a touchdown. And Hockenson and Brock Wright had a big hand in the Lions’ 123-yard rushing day, with Hockenson clearing a path to the end zone on Williams’ first touchdown, thought Wright couldn’t quite hold off Danielle Hunter on the Lions’ failed fourth-and-1 attempt late. Grade: B

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Offensive line

The Lions started their third different offensive line combination in as many games and got another excellent performance. The Vikings managed just two quarterback hits and no sacks. Evan Brown, starting at right guard, had a big block on Williams’ 12-yard run in the first quarter, and Dan Skipper and Penei Sewell had the key blocks on Williams’ second TD run. Skipper was late picking up a blitz on fourth-and-3 in the third quarter when Goff had to sidestep pressure, but he had another solid performance at right guard. Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow had the key blocks on Williams’ 15-yard run in the second half and Decker drew an illegal hands to the face penalty on Za’Darius Smith. Grade: A-minus

Defensive line

The Lions were not nearly as effective with their four-man rush Sunday as they were last week. Linebacker Alex Anzalone had the lone sack on a delayed blitz, and Aidan Hutchinson wasn’t credited with a tackle. The Vikings succeeded running at Hutchinson early, but Hutchinson had good penetration on Dalvin Cook’s touchdown run just before halftime and he forced an overthrew by Kirk Cousins with a nice pass rush on third-and-6. The Vikings finished with 123 yards rushing, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Charles Harris was the Lions’ most effective defensive lineman. He had two quarterback hits, a tackle-for-loss on Cook and made a sneaky play to knock the ball out of Garrett Bradbury’s hands as the Vikings were trying to get it spotted just before halftime to prevent a field goal attempt. Grade: B-minus

Linebackers

Anzalone has played well so far this season, and he had another strong game Sunday. He finished with 10 tackles and a sack and forced another throw-away with a blitz just before halftime after the Vikings moved the ball to midfield. Malcolm Rodriguez finished with eight tackles and was solid in pass coverage. The rookie bit hard on a play-action fake toss early in the game that left Ben Elleftson open for a 12-yard gain, but he blanketed fullback C.J. Ham on several run-action routes, including one when he forced a throw-away in the second half. Rodriguez probably deserves an assist on Cook’s fumble in the second half, too, when he stood up Ezra Cleveland in his gap before Cook ran into Cleveland’s back side. Grade: B

Defensive backs

The Lions made Justin Jefferson a non-factor Sunday, traveling Jeff Okudah with him most everywhere he went and shading help Jefferson’s way. But it was not a great day for the secondary overall. Amani Oruwariye drew five of the unit’s seven penalties and there were some clear communication breakdowns after Tracy Walker left with an ankle or Achilles injury. Mike Hughes was the nearest defender on K.J. Osborn’s game-winning 28-yard TD, but Hughes declined to say what led to the coverage breakdown on the play. The Lions had another miscommunication on Cousins’ 1-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen, which came one play after a Hughes pass interference penalty. Juju Hughes played most of the game in Walker’s absence. He had eight tackles, but missed an open-field stop on one Ham catch, when Anzalone and Oruwariye also overran the play. Grade: C-minus

Special teams

Seibert missed field goals of 48 yards (off the right upright) and 54 yards (late in the game). He did make a 40-yard kick, but the Lions had a subpar day on special teams overall. The Vikings were solid in kick coverage, tackling Justin Jackson inside the 20 twice in the first half, and Kalif Raymond probably should have caught a fourth-quarter punt to avoid the Vikings-friendly roll that left the Lions starting a key possession at their own 9-yard line. Jack Fox netted just 38 yards on his three punts, though he landed a kick at the 2 just before halftime and got it to take a right turn out of bounds. Grade: D

Coaching

The Lions should have picked up their first road win since late in the 2020 season Sunday, and would have had a better chance to had Campbell not called for that 54-yard field goal attempt with 1:14 to play. Campbell said he regretted the decision and he apologized to his team for costing them a chance to win. His decision to kick flew in the face of his aggressive approach the rest of the game. The Lions converted four of five fourth-down attempts in the first 40 minutes and went for fourth downs six times overall. Campbell was on point with his decision making, including when he eschewed a long field goal attempt to try and convert on fourth-and-6. That conversion set up the Lions’ first touchdown. Goff threw short of the sticks on one fourth-down attempt in the first half on a questionable play call, and the Lions might have been too aggressive in throwing deep on third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter. Give Lions coaches credit for navigating the personnel challenges of injuries to Swift, at receiver and in the secondary. Ultimately, though, the field goal decision cost the Lions a win, and that critical error brings the entire grade down. Grade: F

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