Dan Campbell silenced Detroit Lions drama and maybe saved his job by beating Packers

Detroit Free Press

Shortly after Dan Campbell finished his Monday afternoon news conference, in which he spoke about how good Sunday’s Detroit Lions win felt and enjoying the moment and relaxing with a beer at home, and why he didn’t give his team a victory Monday, he left the interview room.

Then the Lions coach quickly spun around and darted back to the room to thank someone … you. He wanted to thank you.

“The fans were outstanding,” he said earnestly from Allen Park. “I mean, that place was booming, it was rocking. They were invested in it, and it helped us win, particularly on defense.”

Campbell may not know how right he was about his sentiments. He may not fully comprehend the deeper emotional context of what transpired 24 hours earlier because he’s a football coach, and football coaches live relentless lives each fall that deprive them of their full senses − like a hamster on a wheel that happens to be inside a submarine a mile below the ocean’s surface.

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Yes, the fans were loud. If you were among the sellout crowd at Ford Field, you didn’t hear the fans’ support as much as you felt it pulsating through your chest cavity during the 15-9 win over Green Bay.

There was a reason for that. Lions fans hate the Packers. They intensely dislike the Bears and Vikings. But they hate the Packers because the Packers have been a rock-solid franchise forever, and the class of the division for the past three decades. Basically, everything the Lions aren’t.

This is why the place was booming. This is why sometimes a win is more than just a win. When it comes against a hated division rival at home in front of your fans who finally get something to cheer about on the heels of a tumultuous drama-filled week, it’s like adding a $1 multiplier to your lottery numbers. You bet it’s gonna mean a lot more.

I don’t think Campbell saw it quite that way. To him, any win against anyone would have felt like a jackpot. You could see the change in his demeanor Sunday night and still on Monday afternoon. Through a five-game losing streak, he kept telling everyone how close the team was as pressure mounted. When the Lions finally went from being close to being closers Sunday, Campbell looked like he could have floated away.

“Feel like you rebound just a little quicker,” Campbell said Monday of winning. “That’s probably the best way to say it. You feel like you get the wind under your wings a little bit faster, that’s all.”

Maybe Campbell doesn’t quite realize the magnitude of what the win meant to his Packers-hating fans, but he certainly understands the organizational drama and upheaval that began with owner Sheila Hamp giving her less-than-full-throated support of him and general manager Brad Holmes two weeks ago, followed by last week’s firing of defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant and the trade of Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson, followed by Holmes’ perplexingly unnecessary defense of the move.

With one win, Campbell flipped the script. He stopped the drama and changed the narrative, at least for now, from talk of firing to rekindling hope. Because if Campbell found a way to fire a key defensive coach and still get the season’s best performance from the defense, you have to wonder how much more he can coax out of his team.

I asked Campbell if beating the Packers amid all the challenges of the previous week served as validation the team is on the right track.

“Yeah, I don’t know validation, I just know I do feel like we’re going the right direction,” he said. “I know the wins are not there, though we just got one there. I like the improvement.

“I would like to be in a better place certainly. I feel like we should have at least two more wins here, and that’s on me. But certainly, to get a win for win’s sake, for winning, goes a long way.”

How long? I’ll tell you: Beating the Packers probably saved Campbell’s job. He likely wasn’t on the verge of being fired, but if the Lions had lost to the Packers there was a good chance they would have extended their losing streak to nine games, with a likely curb-stomping by the Bills coming on Thanksgiving in front of irate home fans and a national audience – the perfect recipe for a midseason coach’s firing and, at the very least, a big factor to consider after the season.

Now the Lions are 2-6 and have a chance to build momentum. If they beat the 3-6 Bears on Sunday, they climb out of the basement. If the 3-6 Packers lose to their former head coach and the 6-2 Cowboys, the Lions could leapfrog them, too, and be in second place in the NFC North on Sunday night.

Granted, a lot would have to go right for that to happen. But if nothing else, it says a lot about Campbell’s stewardship of the Lions that we’ve at least momentarily paused the drama and resumed thinking about what this team is capable of as it continues to build.

Contact Carlos Monarrez: cmonarrez@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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