Five things to know about Detroit Lions’ loss to San Francisco 49ers

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.

Five things to know as Lions face 49ers in season opener

First-year Lions coach Dan Campbell admitted he is getting antsy to get the season started on Friday.

The Campbell era begins at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field when the Lions face the San Francisco 49ers.

“I’m starting to get pretty excited. I know the guys are, too. They’ve been locked in and I just go back to what we said early in the week, it’s about just staying focused on your job and handling what you’re supposed to do, read your keys and let’s play fast,’’ Campbell said before Friday’s practice.

Campbell is no stranger to Ford Field or Lions fans after he spent three seasons as a Lions’ tight end. This, however, will be his first game as a head coach. It should be the first step to an interesting Dan Campbell era in Detroit.

“I know this, if you don’t have talent, it doesn’t matter how good of a coach you are. In this League, you’ll get beat,’’ Campbell said. “So, you’ve got to have talent and I do like the young talent here and I think certainly – I do think you can close the gap.”

Five things to know as the season starts against the 49ers:

1. The Lions meet the exact specifications of Campbell and GM Brad Holmes. This is a young bunch — the second youngest team in the NFL. Young is good when it comes to energy and speed, but with experience in short supply there could be some brutal quarters, games, stretches. I know this, if you don’t have talent, it doesn’t matter how good of a coach you are. In this League, you’ll get beat. So, you’ve got to have talent and I do like the young talent here and I think certainly – I do think you can close the gap.

2. Left tackle Taylor Decker will be sidelined Sunday with an injured finger that could require surgery. He injured it in practice on Wednesday and was expected to see a doctor on Friday. Still Campbell is making plans for the next man to step up. At practice Friday, he had rookie Penei Sewell moved over to left tackle where he played in college. He’s been practicing at right tackle for the Lions. Also, Matt Nelson could get the start in place of Decker or  Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a tackle turned guard, could start at left tackle and Logan Stenberg could step in at Vaitai’s spot at right guard. 

3. Running back D’Andre Swift, who missed much of camp with a groin injury, will be ready to go. That’s certainly a plus. Expect him to get plenty of work against the 49ers with Jamaal Williams and Jermar Jefferson getting reps too.

4. Jared Goff is no Matthew Stafford. Remember that. The Lions certainly could have done worse at the quarterback position but, again, he is no Stafford. There are a few Stafford haters out there (I know who you are), even they might miss No. 9. Goff, the former Rams’ quarterback, is quite familiar with the 49ers defense which could be a help. “He’s faced those guys numerous times over the last – whatever it is, four years. It’s really been the same scheme. (49ers Defensive Coordinator) DeMeco (Ryans) will do some things that are a little bit different, but for the most part, I think they’re going to keep the essence of what that defense is, the front and some of the coverage-based things. I can see them wanting to play a little more man against us and we’ll have a plan for that as well.”

5. The 49ers offense led by Jimmy Garoppolo (with maybe a few appearances by Trey Lance) could feast on the young Lions defense. “We’ve been working that style of offense (using Lance at points)  a little bit in camp just in general against our own offense. Our defense has seen it, but certainly you have to prepare for it. It’s something that kid can do and does pretty well and he’s got good athletic ability and so you have to at least present it to your players for sure,’’ Campbell said.

PREDICTION: San Francisco 49ers 35, Lions 14 (It might be a tad optimistic guessing that the Lions will put up 14 points, but it’s the first game of the season and I feel generous.)

Lions coach Dan Campbell to take season one step at a time

With the San Francisco 49ers on tap in the opener on Sunday coach Dan Campbell is clearly focused on the task at hand which is beating the 49ers. Doesn’t matter that the Lions are 8-point underdogs at home.

With the second-youngest NFL team, a new coach and GM at the helm, not much is expected of the Lions this season. Campbell knows that, he isn’t an idiot. 

When asked if he plays the “prove people wrong” card he said it’s part of the team’s DNA.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that nobody expects us to do much. So, yeah, that’s part of us, but that’s just lip service. What the hell does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t go out and do our job. If I don’t do my job, it doesn’t matter that you think that we’re better than somebody else or we should be thought of as better than that,’’ Campbell said on Monday.

“Yeah, we know that and that drives you a little bit, but man, the focus has got to be on doing your freakin’ job, every one of us. Coaches, players, ‘You’ve got a job to do and let’s go do it, man.’ And you focus on that and give it your full attention and don’t worry about anything else. I think that’s got to be what we’re focused on.”

In his first season as a head coach, the way Campbell motivates his team could make some difference. Not say if he’s Super Motivator they will be playoff-bound, but each player needs to show he is worthy of his job. It might be easier to motivate now with a 0-0 record than down the road if there’s a win-loss ratio of let’s say 3-10.

“I think the focus has got to be – look, the motivation is one thing. It’s got to be about just taking a swing one more time. Like, ‘What is right in front of you? Just worry about what’s right in front of you right now,’’ Campbell said.

First players have to worry about having a good practice each day. 

“Everything has got to be about, ‘You have to do what’s right in front of you. What is the next rep that you have?’ If I’m on offense, we might have 60 plays. We can’t call 60 plays on one play. We can only call one at a time. So, ‘Just focus on that call and what your job is for that look and then take it to the next week,’’ Campbell said.

“Who’s the next opponent? That’s the next one. Don’t worry about what’s beyond that. Yeah, we’ve got Green Bay in two weeks after that. Don’t worry about Green Bay. We’ve got to worry about San Francisco.’ I think if we can just stay focused and centered on what the job is at hand right in front of us and giving it our sole focus and energy, I think that will go a long way for us,’’ the coach added.