Detroit Lions’ blowout win over Jaguars marks a turning point with higher expectations

Detroit Free Press

There are moments that are seared into the minds of Detroit Lions fans. Some good, some not so good.

Matthew Stafford throwing the winning touchdown with a separated shoulder against the Cleveland Browns, which told us this rookie quarterback might actually have some potential.

Marty Mornhinweg taking the wind in overtime against the Chicago Bears in 2002, signaling the end to his tenure and leading fans to question everything about Matt Millen’s stewardship of the franchise.

Another one of these moments likely occurred Sunday, when the Lions beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 40-14, in one of the most thorough thrashings in the NFL this season and in recent team history.

On Thanksgiving, the Lions had lost to the Buffalo Bills, 28-25, in a beautiful game filled with the kind of fantastic frenzy that looked like Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns enthralled in pugilistic perfection throwing a non-stop flurry of punches at each other in the middle of the ring.

Ten days later, the Lions looked like Mike Tyson in his prime, scoring a quick knockout after landing an early devastating blow and watching the poor, overmatched Jags stumbling around Ford Field out on their feet.

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The 40-14 win will stand as a unique moment in Dan Campbell’s tenure, an inflection point that announced to everyone that the Lions — these Lions, his Lions — proved they are no longer an NFL doormat by trampling a real NFL doormat and then picking chunks of Trevor Lawrence and the Jags out of their cleats after the game.

We will all remember last year’s 44-6 loss the Philadelphia Eagles and this year’s 29-0 loss to the New England Patriots as bad losses for a rebuilding team. But the 40-14 victory marks a turning point for this team and its head coach by underscoring their potential.

The Lions may not beat the 10-2 Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and they may not make the playoffs. But this second-half surge of four wins in five games and the promise everyone feels about this team was confirmed by Sunday’s blowout.

Campbell was in a great mood Sunday after the game and joked in his news conference that a reporter (no, not me) interrupted his opening statement lauding the victory. That mood continued Monday afternoon, when I asked him if he sensed the belief in him and the Lions growing, he gave a hilarious answer.

“I mean, I don’t know, yes and no,” he said. “I mean, I’ll go places and people are — nobody’s MF-ed me to my face or anything yet. But people have been nice, which I get some of that, which is awesome.

“But I also know — look, I don’t read everything, but I told you I get hit up with things and so I know at one point I was going to get fired and now I’m not.”

I have good news and bad news for Campbell on his job security. The bad news is he’s likely getting fired — just like 99% of NFL coaches eventually get fired. As former Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith once said, “They don’t hire you to retire you.”

The good news is Campbell has done enough his first two seasons to become the first full-time Lions head coach to get another NFL head coaching job since the Pittsburgh Steelers hired Buddy Parker in 1957. The way he has managed difficult personnel situations and has gotten consistent effort from his players is one thing, but his unique, winning personality will be his ace in the hole during any interview.

One of the most common questions I get from sportswriters who don’t cover the Lions is, “What’s Campbell really like?” There’s no secret sauce or special power. In fact, his special power is that he doesn’t act like he has one. There’s no hint of pretense or football bluster. He speaks like a normal person.

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When my colleague Dave Birkett asked Campbell on Sunday about a Fox Sports report that said first-round pick Jameson Williams would be used as a punt gunner in his NFL debut, Campbell verified the report instead of guarding the truth like it was a nuclear secret that would change the balance of the NFL. He has the good sense to know when things are a big deal and when they aren’t.

I’ve asked a lot of players if there’s any great tactic Campbell uses in meetings. There isn’t. He’s just himself and doesn’t play mind games. On Monday, Campbell said his approach has been the same through the winning and the losing.

“I didn’t change when we were losing, I’m not changing now that we’re winning,” he said. “I mean you just stay the same, consistent.

“Now there may be a way that I speak or the approach or something I put up so that I don’t become monotone. But no, you stay consistent, and I believe in that. Best coaches I’ve been around are very consistent. Doesn’t matter what’s going on around them, they’re the same guy.”

Before Sunday’s win, the moment Campbell would have been most remembered for would have been the fondness for biting kneecaps he described at his introductory news conference. Now there’s a second moment that has been seared into Campbell’s tenure and one that’s more meaningful and satisfying, though probably not as colorful as his anatomical appetite.

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

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