DETROIT — Dan Campbell’s analytical approach after the 41-33 loss to the San Francisco 49ers seemed almost void of emotion.
Of course he wanted to win in his debut as coach of the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday, but he put a finger on why that didn’t happen against a solid 49ers team.
The Lions dug a hole — they were behind 31-10 at the half and 38-10 in the third quarter. The deficit spelled doom. Not gloom and doom -— just doom.
They clawed back and with seconds left on the clock had a chance to tie the game. It didn’t happen, but they were in it until the end.
“One of the things I wanted to make sure we did in this game was continue to play and give yourself a chance at the end of the game. We did do that,’’ Campbell said in his post-game presser. “Now you don’t picture it being that or you’re going to throw it 57 times, but ultimately our guys played until the end, they didn’t throw their palms up, they didn’t start sulking. And they just went back to work and found a way to get back into this game.’’
The defense played better in the second half and the offense found a way to score. Special teams kicked in by recovering a late onside kick.
“We gave ourselves a chance. Our margin for error is so small, it’s just the way we are and the way we’re built. We don’t have the luxury of making some of the mistakes we made and being able to win. So we’ve got to clean that up, we’ll clean it up,’’ Campbell said with a certain confidence.
Five things to know about the loss to San Francisco:
1. Campbell’s aggressiveness was evident early on. In the first quarter he went for it twice on fourth downs. On fourth-and-2 from San Francisco’s 35, Jamaal Williams couldn’t convert. Then on fourth-and-1 from the 49ers’ 17, Jared Goff converted with a 7-yard pass to Tyrell Williams and then the Lions scored their first touchdown on Goff’s 6-yard pass to T.J. Hockenson. “I felt like we needed to do that in this game, I think every game has its own challenges and its own unique floor plan if you will. I felt like it was important to try to create some momentum and I know 3 wasn’t going to be good enough to beat this team,’’ Campbell said. “I don’t second-guess those, I was trying to be aggressive but smart at the same time.’’ The Lions were 2-of-5 on fourth downs.
2. In his Detroit debut, Jared Goff finished 38 of 57 for 338 yards, 3 touchdowns and one interception. The interception — he was trying to get the ball to T.J. Hockenson and held on too long — was returned for a touchdown making it all the worse. “All in all when you put 57 passes on a guy, relative to the way the game was going, he gave us a chance to come back,’’ Campbell said. “I’ll say that. At the end he gave us a chance. I’d like to believe if we could keep ourselves out of that situation our odds are even better.’’ Goff obviously has faith in Hockenson who had 8 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown.
3. Running backs Jamaal Williams (9 carries, 54 yards) and D’Andre Swift (11 carries 39 yards) much of it in the first half. In the second half with such a deep deficit, the gameplan was thrown out the window and Goff was forced to throw early and often. Williams got the start and then Swift, who missed weeks of practice with a groin, stepped in. “Jamaal has been the rock because he’s been there every day. He’s been steady, he’s been sound. We know exactly what he is. He’s been very durable and dependable. That showed again today. He was exactly who we knew he would be and there’s value in that,’’ Campbell said. “Swift hasn’t practiced a ton. Now, we got him back, and you could see what he could do when you get him back. But there were things that Swift was able to do—that screen that he took to the house was something special. But it’s clear that he’s missed some practice. He was rusty. There were little things to his game that he can—and will be so much better now that he’s got this game under his belt. He’ll just get a little better and a little better and a little better. So look, I’m encouraged with that,’’ the coach added.
4. Rookie Penei Sewell lined up at practice at right tackle almost exclusively since the start of camp. When left tackle Taylor Decker injured his finger and underwent surgery last week, Sewell was moved to left tackle even though Campbell had a few other options. “Ultimately, we felt like we knew that matchup would be (Nick) Bosa over there, who was – we all know the type of player he is. We just felt like, athletically, (Sewell) was the best matchup for him knowing he would get a dose of him and he is. He’s powerful, he’s big, he’s explosive, I’m talking about Sewell and he’s played some left tackle in college. I mean, that’s what he had done and I know he embraced it,’’ Campbell said. “Like, he was really excited to go back to the left. So, it just felt like the right move and from that standpoint, we felt like he performed pretty well.’’ Going up against Bosa in an NFL debut is one huge challenge but Sewell didn’t back down. “Can’t let the name on the back of that jersey beat me, so going in I gotta just focus on just kind of looking at them as another person and go from there,’’ Sewell said. Campbell said late in the second quarter he was going to say something into the headset about how well Sewell was playing but he didn’t want to jinx him.
5. On the 49ers first snap on offense, Jimmy Garoppolo fumbled and it was recovered by Detroit’s Jamie Collins. But after that, Detroit’s defense didn’t get a stop until the third quarter. The hole they dug was just too deep for the offense to overcome. Cornerback Jeff Okudah couldn’t finish the game and was carted off with an injury. Campbell said it’s either his ankle or Achilles, the test results were not in. “I would say for Jeff it was an up and down game, he flashes on a few plays you’re like, ‘Whoa, OK there he is.’ Next thing you know something happens. I don’t want to make excuses but at the same time he’s in Year 2, he made some young errors,’’ Campbell said. The defense cracked down only allowing 10 points in the second half but it was too late.
NEXT UP: Lions at Packers, 8:15 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 20.