Turns out Detroit Lions owner Sheila Hamp may have been right to preach patience with team

Detroit Free Press

Let’s go back in time to the old days, when the Detroit Lions were terrible and had no hope.

Back on Oct. 26 — I mean, think about that, less than six weeks ago — the Lions were playing so badly, and there was so much growing heat on coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes that Lions owner Sheila Hamp held a rare news conference to express her support.

“I know this is difficult,” Hamp said in a 1-minute, 11-second opening statement. “A rebuild is hard.”

The Lions were 1-5 and underperforming.

“But we really believe in our process, we really believe in we’re going to turn this thing around the right way, through the draft,” Hamp said. “It requires patience, it’s frustrating. Am I frustrated? Absolutely. Are the fans frustrated? Absolutely. Are you guys frustrated? But I think we really are making progress.”

Now, look where the Lions are. They have won four of their last five and have a shot at the playoffs. These Lions don’t just look different on the field. They sound different.

“We hit them in the mouth,” safety DeShon Elliott said on Sunday after the Lions pounded Jacksonville, 40-14. “If you hit anybody in the mouth, you don’t want to keep playing ball. So I think with that being said, if we can keep playing like that, I think we can be a great team. I think we can go out here and make the playoffs.”

Punching other teams in the mouth — instead of being the one with the bloody lip?

A great team? Playoffs?

Yes, this just sounds like a different team.

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“Yeah, there’s a lot of people that owe me an apology, (expletive) Twitter DMs and (expletive),” Taylor Decker said. “We’re confident and we’re going out there to play to win. And we’re just building … we’re just trending in the right direction. This was by far our best game.”

In many ways, this five-game stretch has given Hamp a measure of vindication, not just for hiring Campbell and Holmes, but also for believing in them. Because the progress is hard to ignore.

“We really had to take it down to the ground level,” she said. “And it’s been not only the football side but across the organization. We’ve put in a lot of new talent at the top. I really believe in the top leadership in this organization and I think we’ve got the people to do it, to carry this out. I think that’s what different.”

Well, it’s certainly looks different now.

Now that everybody is healthy, this stretch offers hope that Holmes knows what he’s doing, putting together this roster; and that Campbell can push the right buttons to win games.

“I think we can compete with anybody,” Campbell said. “You got to do all the things right, to win, as we all know. It doesn’t matter who we play, it doesn’t matter what the record is. If you don’t play clean enough football, you turn the ball over, you don’t get takeaways, you get a ton of penalties, then no you’re not going to win. Doesn’t matter who you play. But, when we do things right, I like our odds.”

What has changed?

In some ways, the biggest change is the Lions’ defense. It was absolutely dominant against the Jaguars.

Yes, you could say, it’s only the Jaguars.

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But this looks real.

It’s embarrassing,” Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “Credit to them, those guys, those guys whooped us. I’m not taking anything away from them, but just the way we came out on both sides of the ball, all three phases, just didn’t play anywhere close to our best football, weren’t detailed, didn’t execute.”

Even beyond the wins, there are so many encouraging signs for the Lions.

The Lions were penalized just one time against the Jaguars — a sign of discipline.

They held the Jaguars to just 3-of-12 attempts on third downs — a sign of complete defensive domination.

They were 4-for-4 in the red zone — a sign of efficiency where it matters the most.

They won the turnover battle — a sign of a winning team.

They bounced back from a Thanksgiving Day loss — a sign of resilience.

They rushed for 80-or-more yards for the 12th straight game to open the season for the first time since 1981 — a sign that offensive line is legit.

And the Lions didn’t punt once and have scored at least 25 points in four straight games for the first time since 2012 — a sign that the world is coming to an end.

OK, no. I’m kidding.

It’s a credit to offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.

“He’s the mastermind,” Lions quarterback Jared Goff said. “He really is; he’s done a hell of a job every single week.”

Goff was fantastic, completing 31 of 41 passing for 340 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 115.9 passer rating. His 75.6 completion percentage ties for the third-highest in franchise history among quarterbacks with at least 40 passes in a game.

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“Our quarterback played as good as you can play,” Campbell said.

Again, you could stress that this was against the Jaguars.

But this is five weeks of really good football.

“I think it just simply says that we’re maturing,” Campbell said. “I think that’s what it says. I think we’re maturing, we’re growing, and we continue to get a little bit better.”

Now, there is a temptation to look back at Campbell’s decision making against the Vikings, or how they couldn’t force a punt in a 48-45 loss to Seattle, or how they scored 35 against the Eagles but still lost, and if you change any of those games and all of this would feel so different and the playoffs would become even more attainable.

But that is a pointless exercise at this point.

Maybe, it’s better to focus on where they are now.

“Yeah, that was our most dominant win of the season where we essentially have control the whole game,” Aidan Hutchinson said. “I think that’s just a testament to our confidence.”

So they keep getting better, and the confidence is growing, and the wins are starting to stack together, which has left Lions fans in such a strange, unusual spot:

  1. Rooting for the Rams to lose — to improve that draft pick.
  2. Starting to watching other games with the playoffs in mind.

Man, this is weird, and different, and so unexpected.

But fun as heck.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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