Lions offer no excuses after loss to Eagles; still a few positives emerged

DETROIT — The Lions fought back from a 17-point deficit in the third quarter to make it a game, but they came up just short.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles were just too much and prevailed in a 38-35 win on Sunday in the season opener at Ford Field.

“What mistakes did they make? They really didn’t,’’ Lions coach Dan Campbell said.

The coach made no excuses. His defense allowed 38 points and Hurts provided 333 yards (243 yards passing).

“I was proud we fought our way back, but we’ve got a lot to clean up,’’ Campbell said.

The Lions haven’t won a season opener since 2017. And, again, Campbell and the players made no excuses, but they did find reasons that this team is different from the one that lost 44-6 to the Eagles last season.

“The good news is we didn’t play very well, but we only lost by 3,’’ Campbell said 

Running back D’Andre Swift provided a spark offensively with 144 rushing yards (9.6 yards per carry) along with 3 catches for 31 yards.

Swift credited the execution up front as phenomenal along with the blocking downfield. 

“It’s good but we let one slip away from us,’’ Swift said.

That seemed to be a theme afterward. 

Quarterback Jared Goff (21-37, 215 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) agreed that they left too much on the field.

“We felt like we could have scored 50 points,’’ Goff said. “We shot ourselves in the foot.’’

His interception which was returned for a touchdown in the second quarter gave the Eagles a 21-7 lead. Goff said it was a matter of miscommunication between him and tight end T.J. Hockenson. 

The Lions offense opened with a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, but then sputtered with three 3-and-outs. Goff found more of a rhythm in the second half and in doing so said they may have found a bit of their offensive identity including explosive plays and going downfield.

The Lions were down 24-14 at the half, but scored three touchdowns in the second half. Ama-Ra St. Brown caught a 4-yard pass, Jamaal Williams scored on a 1-yard run and wide receiver D.J. Chark caught a 22-pass in the corner of the endzone.

The defense had its hands full from the get-go.

“I think in the run game, we did a good job against them. It was more of the pass, drop back, scramble situations that we weren’t able to contain him,’’ linebacker Alex Anzalone (9 tackles) said. “Obviously, that was a focus and a point of emphasis this week, so we’ve just got to figure out how to be disciplined and our rush lanes and where the help is in coverage situations and get it cleaned up.”

Rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, who drew loud cheers every time his name was mentioned by the P.A. announcer, played against Hurts in college. “He’s very slick and obviously, he’s progressed in the League. He got a couple of runs on us, so we’ve got to fix it. The next day, we’ve got to fix it,’’ Rodriguez said.

 Safety Tracy Walker led the defense with 11 tackles, a sack and a pass defense. He could have added to those numbers, but was tossed out of the game in the second half after two personal fouls on the same play. 

“I just let my team down. Me, as a team captain, I’ve just got to be better,’’ Walker said. “I was hot-headed at the moment, and like I said, I’ve just got to make better decisions at the end of the day.”

Cornerback Jeff Okudah, who is coming back from a torn Achilles, finished with 10 tackles while linebacker Alex Anzalone had 9.

“I think I did pretty well, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the win,’’ Okudah said. “That’s something that we preach upon, and the win is what’s going to change the narrative about the Detroit Lions.”

First-round pick Aidan Hutchinson only notched one tackle. His presence was felt even if it didn’t show up in the stats.

“He’ll be better next week,’’ Campbell said. “He needed this.”

(Up next: Washington Commanders at Lions, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18. The Commanders defeated the Jaguars, 28-22, on Sunday.)

Lions CB Jeff Okudah needs reps as he returns from Achilles injury

Jeff Okudah has worked hard on getting his speed back after tearing his Achilles in the season opener a year ago.

The Lions cornerback traveled around the United States and ventured into Canada seeking out the best specialists to help get him back on the football field.

Friday night’s preseason opener could be a big step in the process. For many players coming back from a lengthy injury taking that first hit is big. But it’s more than that for Okudah who the Lions drafted with the third overall pick in 2020.

“That’s always big making that first play, but I think it’s getting out there and participating just being out there with the crowd’s energy. I think that will be big for me as well,’’ Okudah said after Wednesday’s training camp.

He said as far as physically he thinks everything has gone smoothly in training camp.

“I’m my toughest critic but trying not to be too hard on myself after not playing in 11 months,’’ Okudah said. 

The cornerback is listed behind Amani Oruwariye and Will Harris on the depth chart that coach Dan Campbell calls “unofficially official.”

“The way I approach it, I always feel like there’s competition so even when there wasn’t really a competition I always take everything as competition,’’ OKudah said. “I always demanded that out of myself.”

Campbell said they have no concern about Okudah’s Achilles.

“Physically he looks great. He needs reps. He needs reps, he needs to play, I mean that’s the thing that we can never lose sight of. I mean, he’s going into Year Three and he really hasn’t played. I mean he just hasn’t had significant playing time,’’ Campbell said.

In his rookie season Okudah struggled through a variety of injuries and only played nine games. In 2021 he was lost for the season in the opener.

Friday night’s preseason game should provide a clue about where Okudah stands with the regular season about a month away.

(The Lions open the preseason at 6 p.m. on Friday against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field.)

Five things to know about Lions CB Amani Oruwariye

While Friday was just the third day of training camp, already Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell sees a difference in Amani Oruwariye, the oldest cornerback on the roster at age 26. 

“I tell you what from this time last year, he feels like a guy who understands what he’s capable of. He understands what he’s good at, what he can do, what he needs to work on. He’s a pro right now, he’s practicing like a pro, he did in the spring,’’ Campbell said before the start of Friday’s practice. “There’s a comfort level and he’s very confident and it’s good to see.”

A big difference from a year ago is now the Lions — with Campbell in his second season — know what they have in Oruwariye.

“We feel like, alright it’s early in camp and all of that, he’s got to prove it again. He knows that and has to continue to improve, but we feel pretty good where he is in that spot. It was good to see him grow and develop at the rate he did. He was having a hell of a year before the injury, I would say he picked up right where he left off in the spring and even the first two days,’’ Campbell added.

Five things to know about Oruwariye early in training camp:

1. He embraces his role as a leader as the oldest corner on the roster and even noted that he has found one gray hair. “Agewise, there’s a lot of guys around my age, guys who have been here with me. Just from experience, I’ve played a lot with different coaches. I do feel a sense of responsibility to make sure the guys are ready to go and make sure everyone is prepared and working like a professional every single day,’’ Oruwariye said on Friday.

2. Oruwariye shared his reaction to Campbell calling him a pro. “I take pride in it, it means I come to work everyday and be the best teammate I can be everyday and try to be the best Amani I can be everyday for my teammates,’’ the corner said.

3. Last season Oruwariye was sidelined for the final three games with a thumb injury. He was missed. He led the Lions with six interceptions — no one else had more than one. Three of his picks came in the last five games he played. He was on a roll. “It was amazing. I was living a dream, making the plays I could make for the defense. Obviously we didn’t get the wins we wanted, but I’m hoping if I continue to have that production and I can rally the guys around me to continue building off that, we’ll start getting the Ws,’’ Oruwariye said

4. No one could be more pleased about the emphasis the team put on improving the pass rush in the offseason, including drafting Aidan Hutchinson with the second overall pick. “It’s amazing. Those guys just make it easier on us. Obviously we still have a job to do but knowing that we’ve got guys who can win the one-on-one battles up front consistently it’s going to affect our defense tremendously,’’ Oruwariye said. “It will affect how we see offenses, our timing of how routes develop because we know we only have to guard four seconds instead of five seconds. It’s everything,’’ Oruwariye said.

5. Either Will Harris or Jeff Okudah will likely start opposite Oruwariye when the season starts. Harris made the move from safety to corner during the 2021 season and Okudah’s 2021 season ended on opening day when he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon. “Will stepped up huge for us last season, it’s hard to go unnoticed. He just is Mr. Consistent, Mr. Know-it-all. He’s played every position on the defense. He’s just out there making sure he can perfect his craft at corner, it’s new to him. I’m helping him out a lot. He’s learning and competing,’’ Oruwariye said.

“Jeff is just gaining that confidence to be out there and play and put together a good camp. I told him to take it one day at a time and obviously I’m still always there. If you need advice for anything, for things I see, talk to me, we can sit down and watch film. But for him it’s just gaining confidence and the courage to go out there and do what he does best. We all know what he’s capable of us, it’s just putting it out there.’’

NOTE: Lions training camp continues on Saturday. The team then has Sunday off. Monday will be the first day they’re in pads and also the first day camp is open to the general public.