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.)

Five keys to the Detroit Lions’ 37-35 loss to the Vikings

DETROIT — In one of the strangest seasons in NFL history thanks in part to the COVID pandemic, it’s finally over for the Detroit Lions.

They put an exclamation mark on a frustrating season with a 37-35 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Ford Field. The Lions finished 5-11 with just one home win.

The defense, which has struggled all season, set franchise records for the most points and yards given up in a season. They were worse than the winless 2008 team. Think about it.

Interim coach Darrell Bevell took over for the final five games (one he spent at home due to COVID protocol) and while the team seemed more energized the wins did not come. 

“I’ve told these guys how much I love this game, how much I respect it. I think it says a lot in situations you guys might say is meaningless but there’s a lot of history in this game, there’s a lot of people who have been on the field before us,’’ Bevell said. “To go out and to play continually for one another as hard as they did the whole game long I think it speaks a lot for these guys.’’

Five of the keys in the game.

1. Quarterback Kirk Cousins played like Aaron Rodgers thanks to the Detroit defense. He threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns. And the Vikings were missing running back Dalvin Cook.Still they were able to run up the yards against Detroit’s porous defense.

2. The loss was by two points so every play mattered. Early in the fourth on fourth-and-goal on Detroit’s 1-yard-line, Tracy Walker broke through and sacked Cousins. Well, that’s what it looked like. However referee Adrian Hill blew the whistle and called it roughing the passer. That gave the Vikings a new set of downs and they scored on a Cousins keeper two plays later. After the game, Hill told the pool reporter (which is me): “By rule, one of the categories for roughing the passer is full body weight, where the tackler lands with his full body weight on the quarterback. That’s the category this play fell into. The momentum doesn’t play a role and the rolling off afterwards does not play a role. It’s that initial contact to the ground. If you roll off afterwards, that doesn’t eliminate the foul.” … Bevell said he was told on the sidelines that it was because of body weight, but the coach said he’d like to get another look at the replay.

3. Matthew Stafford had a solid game but his one interception was costly. He finished 20 of 31 for 293 yards and three touchdowns. He was playing with a bad pack, ribs and injured thumb. Yet, he was out there and there wasn’t really much doubt that he’d be on the field despite limited practices. “It’s a cool relationship to have with the quarterback,’’ Bevell said. “I really appreciate what he did. The guy’s out there, not 100 percent, he’s fighting for his teammates. He talked to the team last night about respect for the game, the history, the guys who came before us. The guy is laying everything on the line in a game that he doesn’t need to. I think that says a lot about him as a person, as a quarterback, what he means to the team.’’

4. With two touchdown catches Marvin Jones Jr., became the third leading wide receiver in all of franchise history. He finished with 36 touchdowns in Detroit (he has 50 overall in the NFL) which places him behind Calvin Johhson (83) and Herman Moore (62). He had eight catches for 180 yards and another touchdown that was reversed on a challenge. “Marv was hot early and I was going to keep feeding him. Obviously I wish that third touchdown I thought it was a great catch, i’m not sure it hit the ground,’’ Stafford said. “Maybe there’s a better view. We didn’t have a good one in the stadium. I’m really happy for him. He’s been a really good player for us for 5 years and I’ve enjoyed playing with him. The guy’s an incredible talent obviously, a great, great friend of mine and a great teammate. I’m just happy he had a big day.’’ Jones will be a free agent heading into next season so it’s unclear if he will return.

5. Bevell was handed a tough task after Patricia was fired. He handled it with grace and passion. His love for the game is obvious. “I was extremely proud of the way he stepped into that situation, it’s a tough one. It’s a tough year to be a coach in the NFL with all the extra COVID stuff going on, all the regulations, I thought he did an outstanding job. He’s a hack of a person and everybody got to realize that,’’ Stafford said. … “He’s a great person, a great coach, I was just really happy he got the opportunity and I think everybody in our locker room really rallied around him which was awesome. I want to win more football games than we did but I thought he stepped in and did a great job.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five things to watch as Lions close out season vs. Vikings

You can call it a meaningless game with the Lions hosting the Vikings on Sunday. After all it’s Week 16 and neither team is heading to the playoffs. But that is not how the players and coaches view it. 

“This is what we do. This is what we love. This is why we’re in this business is to play the game of football and play the game we love. We signed up for 16 games,’’ Lions interim coach Darrell Bevell said. “They’re giving us the 16th game, another opportunity, regardless of scenario situations. This is what we do, so we want to go play.

“We want to put our best foot forward. We want to play the way that we’re capable of playing and look for a win and be able to go out the way that we would like to go out,’’ he added.

Fans may want the Lions lose to get a better draft pick but that is not how the guys on the field look at it.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford, who injured his ankle last week in the loss to the Packers, is officially questionable to play. Or, in other words, expect him to start. “With Matthew, I think the best thing for him is that he’s got the best feel and read for his body. So, we’ll continue to progress like we normally do with him. Some of the other injuries are resolving, so we’ll see how this injury on his ankle resolves as well by the end of the week,’’ Bevell said.

2. When the Vikings beat the Lions, 34-20, on Nov. 8, running back Dalvin Cook was on fire with 22 carries for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Cook won’t play Sunday due to his father’s death. His absence obviously plays in the Lions’ favor but that does not mean it will be an automatic win for  Detroit. 

3. Detroit’s defense must play better than against the Packers. It was an embarrassment. It’d be nice to see them close the season on a more positive note but not counting on it.

4. D’Andre Swift will get the start again at running back with Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson picking up the slack. Johnson is the third-down back like he’s been most of the season. Swift averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the first meeting with the Vikings.

5. Bevell said his message didn’t change for this week. “It’s the same thing I’ve kind of talked about almost every day that I’ve been up here. I basically talked to the players today about the love of this game, and basically, respect for this game and what that means and what that looks like,’’ Bevell said. “I think for all of us we have a great love for this game. To echo (Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer) ‘Zim’, yes, this is the last game that you’ll play, and it will stick with you for a long time. It’s one that you’ll remember the most, but there’s still other things that we’ll remember. As far as going out – it’s what we signed up for, it’s what we love to do.’’

PREDICTION: Vikings 34, Lions 17