I’ve covered the Detroit Lions for nearly 20 years, but on Sunday I did something I had never done.
I watched the game with fans, and by that I mean serious fans, the kind who live and die with every down and know the team’s history probably a little too well for their own good.
I watched the Lions’ crushing 28-24 road loss to the Minnesota Vikings from my friend’s couch. We were joined by his two sons, who are 23 and 24 years old and are devoted Lions fans. His sons’ anguish was real. When the Lions went up, 14-0, there was guarded giddiness. When the Lions lost, their pain was palpable, first filling the room with silence, then recrimination.
It affected me. You see, I cover the Lions and every other team with dispassionate objectivity. I have to. It’s similar to the reason surgeons don’t operate on family members. You need emotional distance from your subject. That’s why watching sportswriters in a press box during a game is as exciting as watching accountants prepare tax returns.
But Sunday was different. I left my friend’s house saddened by how hard his sons had taken the loss. It meant a lot to them, maybe because there’s been more hope built up in Year 2 of the Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes rebuild, but also because there’s a deep-seated illogical loyalty to this team that’s baked into Michiganders’ souls at birth.
It’s understandable. The Lions blew a big lead and lost another close one under Campbell after another one of his questionable calls, this time opting to kick a 54-yard field goal instead of trying to close out the game by going for it on fourth-and-4. You’ve probably heard a conversation or two about this by now.
But it isn’t time to give up hope. The fact the Lions played the 3-0 Philadelphia Eagles close, beat Washington and almost beat a good Vikings defense on the road should all be signs of encouragement, especially when you consider all the early injuries a growing, depth-challenged team like the Lions are dealing with.
But it was Campbell himself who said after the 38-35 loss to Philly that couldn’t be tolerated much longer.
“Now if we just take this whole approach where every week it’s like, ‘We lost by three, we lost by three, we lost by three.’ Then, what are we doing?”
On Monday, I went to Allen Park to ask Campbell about his message is to fans about why they should continue to believe in him and the Lions.
“Yeah, listen, I get the road that everybody’s been down,” Campbell said, efficiently dispatching the three-word epithet every Lions fan knows. “Listen, I’m not sweating it. I’m not sweating it, this team’s not sweating it.”
Campbell told his players afterward that failing isn’t failure, unless they don’t learn from it.
“And so that was a tough one,” he said. “We were up two scores. Should have won that game. But you know what? We didn’t earn the right to win that game. Minnesota did, and we’ve got to look long and hard in the mirror to ourselves and we’ve got to clean up these errors.”
Campbell always seems to say the right thing. He likes to take the blame. He owned his mistake to let Austin Seibert attempt that last field goal instead of letting the offense, the Lions’ best unit, try to win the game.
Honestly, I didn’t hate the field-goal call for two reasons. The offense was leaking oil pretty bad without 40% of its starting linemen, no D’Andre Swift at that point, a gimpy Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jamaal Williams having gotten stuffed for no gain or minus-4 yards on four of his previous five runs.
And Seibert was close on his first miss and made his previous kick. If you’re kicker can’t convert a 54-yarder in a dome in crunch time, it’s better to find that out early in the season. If Seibert had made the kick, the Vikings would have had a tough time going 75 yards without a timeout even against the Lions’ defense.
But maybe you’re tired of all this. Maybe your faith in Campbell is wavering and you’re growing a little tired of his speeches. You just want the Lions to finally start winning for a change.
Believe me, on Sunday I got a new appreciation for this sentiment. I have a new understanding of fans’ frustration. While I don’t think the Lions are going to win a lot of games this year — I’m still OK with my preseason six-game prediction — I believe Campbell and his staff are getting this young, growing team closer to victory more often.
Again, let’s not forget about Philly. The Lions learned from that game and beat the Commanders convincingly.
“Listen, this is not the time to go into panic mode,” Campbell said. “This is not time to worry. This is time to do just what we did from Philly to Washington. Let’s just get better. Let’s just focus on the little details. So that’s what it’s about.”
I feel your pain and maybe Campbell does, too. But stick with this team a little longer. Who knows? If I can finally watch a game with fans and relate to their misery, maybe the Lions can do the unexpected and start winning some games.
Contact Carlos Monarrez: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.