Taylor Decker stood in the Detroit Lions’ locker room after Sunday’s emphatic 34-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. He looked across the room at the wall that separated the two teams, and he knew what was on the other side.
“I’m sure they’ve got the NFC North (champion) shirts and hats in their locker room,” he said.
Decker also knew what he had on his side of the wall.
To his right stood offensive tackle Penei Sewell, who effectively closed out the game with a 9-yard reception on a motion route.
To Decker’s left stood special-teams ace C.J. Moore, who ran the ball 42 yards on a gutsy fake punt direct-snap deep in Lions territory.
Next to Moore stood safety DeShon Elliott, who was extolling his head coach’s sizable — well, let’s just call it a double helping of boldness.
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“I mean, we met it head on and didn’t even blink,” Decker said. “I mean, it’s huge.”
The Lions are one of the NFL’s most dangerous and feared teams right now. That seems strange to say about a 6-7 team, unless you’ve actually watched them play on their way to winning five of their past six games, with their last three wins coming by double digits.
“Just to be over the hump going into the final stretch of the season,” Decker said, “it’s about as good as it’s felt in my entire career, about as confident as we’ve ever been.”
How good? Decker made sure to savor the moment by pouring a little salt in the Vikings’ wounds.
“Tough look for Jalen Reagor right now,” he said with a little smirk about the Vikings receiver who guaranteed a win earlier in the week.
Last week’s 40-14 rout over the Jacksonville Jaguars marked a turning point for the Lions by establishing them as a team that knows how to destroy inferior teams. The dominating victory also established them as a team that looked like a playoff-worthy team, if not this season then definitely next.
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With four games to go, it’s just a matter of the Lions running out of time. Of course, anything can happen, especially with three road games coming up. But if there’s one seismic shift about this team, it’s that no one expects the worst. And everyone, even sportswriters who are paid to know these things, are trying to figure out the reason.
When one reporter asked Campbell after the game why his players believe they can win, he pulled a judo move and turned the question right back on the scribe.
“What do you think?” he said. “When you look at them, what do you think? I felt like we’ve had confidence for a while, we’ve been confident.”
It’s true. If you remember during the 1-6 start, Campbell kept saying the team was close. And they were. People hate the idea of a moral victory, but that’s exactly what the Lions were earning in losing close games to good teams like the Vikings, Eagles, Seahawks and Dolphins.
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Now they’re earning everyone’s respect. They’re daring, disciplined and dangerous. Even when they racked up five penalties in the first quarter Sunday, when they were trying to get used to being in a big-game environment, the Lions found their way back to doing what led them there in the first place.
“I knew there’s that possibility,” Campbell said, “because what you don’t want is they’re uptight and they’re so wired they do something that we don’t want to do and that happened a couple of times. And that’s unacceptable, that’s not what we’re about. That’s not what we talk about. Everything is between the lines and snap to whistle.
“But we did. We got them to calm down. They settled in and they didn’t — they were able to overcome those things.”
The reason why is simple, but not easy.
As Campbell said, “there’s no secret sauce or anything.” It’s just hard work from good players who are getting better, learning how to take leads and hold on to them and trusting their coaches and each other.
If you could stand in the Lions’ locker room after one of their many recent wins, it would be apparent.
Contact Carlos Monarrez: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.