Five reasons the surging Lions handed a loss to the Vikings

DETROIT – Dan Campbell is drained and exhausted, but in a good way. He can’t wait for the Lions winning to continue through the next four weeks. The playoffs remain a posssibility.

The Lions took another step in the right direction with a 34-23 win over the division rival Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at an electric Ford Field. The win boosted Detroit’s record to 6-7 and 3-1 in the division. The Lions have won five of their last six and had no intention of the Vikings (10-3) clinching the division at Ford Field.

“The guys know how I’ve felt all week about this game. But yeah, look I don’t think there’s a surprise here. I’ve said it before, it’s hard when you get down in the dumps and you were where we were at, it’s easy to lose faith, but these guys never did and we stayed true to what we’re about and they knew, they believed we were one play away and that’s where we’ve been,’’ Campbell said.

It seems a long way since the 1-6 start.

“Now we’re making the play, we’re making the one extra play, this – it’s not costing us. And we’re able to overcome some of these mistakes we were making earlier. So no, our guys, they know they belong,’’ the coach added. “They know they belong and they know when they play football like we’ve been playing the last six weeks we can play with anybody. That’s the truth.” 

Campbell, who has made coaching mistakes and is the first one to admit it, called a game that was not absolutely perfect but was perfect for the opponent and the minute.

He and his coordinators dialed up a fake punt, a crucial third-down pass to right tackle Penei Sewell and set up a 48-yard touchdown pass play to rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams. It was a little edgy and just the right mode for a young team that develops more confidence with every snap.

Five of the main reasons the Lions won:

1. Two plays stood out to Campbell. One was the fumble forced by Isaiah Buggs and recovered by Kerby Joseph late in the first half. The Vikings were deep in the Red Zone and a touchdown would have tied the game going into the half. Instead Buggs forced the fumble at the Lions’ 3-yard line and the Lions got the ball back with 59 seconds in the half. They couldn’t score  — Michael Badgley’s 49-yard field goal attempt was wide left — but they maintain a 7-point halftime lead. The other notable play was the fake punt early in the third on a fourth-and-8 at Detroit’s 26. Failure would have given the Vikings optimum field position, but the ball was snapped directly to C.J. Moore who ran it for 42 yards. “We knew the look they were going to give us and we’ve – and I’ve got a lot of trust in our guys. We’ve worked things a number of ways, seen all kinds of looks and those guys just make it work and I trust Moore.”’’ Campbell said.

2. Talk about efficiency in action, the Lions’ first two touchdowns were on passes of 48 yards to Jameson Williams and 41 yards to D.J. Chark. Campbell said the run game can be better but they can make up for it with explosive plays. “To be able to deliver that element to our offense is huge because I feel like with that we’re pretty well-balanced. We can do – we can kind of play any type of game we need to offensively and that’s a good thing. And it all starts with our offensive line,’’ Campbell said. On that Williams touchdown, quarterback Jared Goff said he couldn’t believe how wide-open he was due to busted coverage.

3. Jared Goff said he is playing the best ball of his career and you won’t find Campbell disagreeing with that assessment. Somebody has to get the receivers those deep balls and run the offense with efficiency. Goff was 27-39 for 330 yards and three touchdowns. It was his fifth straight game without an interception. “He’s playing outstanding and he’s a direct link as to why we are playing better. He’s playing really good football and he’s taking care of the football. He’s making big throws, man. He’s been highly accurate and just – man, there’s a lot of faith. A lot of faith in him and he’s got a lot of faith in us. And so, man, I thought he had another hell of a day,’’ Campbell said. “He stepped in there and I’ll tell you what, he’s cool, he’s calm, he’s collected, he’s making these throws. And the O-line is blocking well. They’re protecting the heck out of him, so I don’t disagree. It was good to see, man.’’

4. The defense’s swagger grows each week thanks to defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. “He rallied the troops. He never let them give in, he never let them lose faith and he just kept coaching his ass off, as did that whole staff. And they’ve begun to grow, they’ve grown and we had to – we kind of had to bring some stuff. We had to pull everything back to the studs, man, we had to break it down and simplify and now we’re able to start pulling it back in, man, we’ve started to implement a lot of things that we were doing even last year,’’ Campbell said. “So, now that we’ve got them back to where – to where they are playing with confidence, they trust the guy next to him. And all these young guys are growing, now we can be a little more complex.” Linebacker Alex Anzalone’s 9 tackles pushed him to 100 for the season. Defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs finished with three quarterback hits, 1.0 sack and one forced fumble. Rookie linebacker James Houston became the third rookie in team history to record a sack in three-straight games. Rookie Aidan Hutchinson had two solo tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and a  sack.

5. That defense stuffed running back Dalvin Cook who had 15 carries for just 23 yards, his lowest total yardage since Week 2. “We put a lot of strain on the front seven is what we did. Honestly, and it was gap responsibility, we asked the nickel to do a lot of things, but man we had to fit it. We asked our big boys in the middle to have to bang away (Alim McNeill) Mac and Buggs, we put a lot on those guys, and so really it was more about those guys up front and our linebackers,’’ Campbell said. They were going to have to take that away because we used an enormous amount of resources on the backend with (Vikings WR Justin) Jefferson, as you can see.’’

BONUS: On third-and-7 with 2 minutes left at the Vikings’ 41, Goff threw a 9-yard completion to Sewel, the right tackle who had reported eligible. “That was part of the package we were going to have that we could use in the red zone if needed. And then, it felt like that was the right time to bring it out. We had practiced – had good practice reps with it. We’d used him earlier in that fast motion, and so we just – we felt really good about it being there because when you see him coming you’re not going to just think he’s going to the flat, he’s going to block you one more time like he did before,’’ Campbell said. “So, it was a great call, we trusted him. Look, we know what kind of athlete he is, he’s a phenomenal athlete. I mean, we talk about – who knows what kind of tackle he’s going to be, I think a pretty dang good one, he already is. But he could be a Hall of Fame tight end in my opinion too if he wanted to lose a little bit of weight. But he is, he’s got real good hands. He’s got real good feet, we felt like he was going to be wide open, which he was. And we told him to stay in bounds and he did.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions.)

(Up next: Lions (6-7) at N.Y. Jets (7-6) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18. The Jets lost 20-12 to the Bills on Sunday.)

Lions win validates Dan Campbell’s vision, plan moving forward

ALLEN PARK — A win in Week 2 in the big scheme of the NFLseason isn’t necessarily key for most teams.

But the Lions  36-27 win over the Commanders on Sunday validates what coach Dan Campbell and his staff are working toward. That is huge for a team that didn’t pick up its first win until Week 13 last year and finished 3-13-1.

“I think it was a great step, a step in the right direction for us to finally learn how to get over the hump and close out the game,’’ wide receiver Josh Reynolds said. “I’m proud of the guys. I think they got the first taste of it on how good we can be and how to close out a game. I think that was a giant step.’’

Campbell has preached finishing and details week in and week out. He’s confident in his team and regularly will say they have the right guys on the roster. 

“Listen we’ve got the guys, they’re going to go to work no matter what happens, they’re going to put in the work, they’re going to try to get better, they’re going to compete,’’ Campbell said on Monday. “So that’s never an issue. But to be able to get our win early in the season, Week 2, you get early validation to what we’re doing and we’re doing that without all our bullets.’’

Three offensive line starters were among the big absences.

“We’ve got some guys out and everything we’ve talked about, next man up, do your job, help us win and we did that with the guys that were available yesterday, the 48-man roster for game day,’’ Campbell said. “I think it’s big, it’s validation that we’re heading in the right direction. These guys believe and they’re doing what we ask them to do and it’s paying off.’’

Left tackle Taylor Decker and right tackle Penei Sewell, both veterans, talked before the game about how they had to dominate and play with confidence so those around them would play the same way.

“The level of expectation of whoever’s out  there doesn’t change because you’re in the NFL and you’re a professional,’’ Decker said, emphasizing there’s a standard in the offensive line room that doesn’t change for anyone.

Dan Skipper had never played the guard position and started at left guard. Logan Stenberg took a few lumps in his first start a week ago at right guard and improved on Sunday. Center Evan Brown played in a dozen games last season so he had a little experience to lean on.

The offensive line blocking is a big reason the Lions lead the NFL with 7.2 rushing yards per carry. The blocking of the wide receivers was key in putting together eight explosive plays. 

But it was all three units — offense, defense, special teams — that contributed to the win. After holding a 22-0 lead at the half, the Commanders were able to get back in the game but the Lions held them off for the win. 

“We kept that lead, we didn’t crumble and didn’t let the stress and pressure break us. We hung in there and finished the game,’’ Campbell said. “That’s what excites me more than anything about what how it went down yesterday.’’

(Next up: Lions (1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-0) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25. The Vikings face the Eagles in Monday Night Football.)

Five Lions’ positives taken from opening loss to Eagles

ALLEN PARK — After watching film of the Lions 38-35 loss to the Eagles on Monday, coach Dan Campbell said he felt better than he did right after the game at Ford Field.

That’s a positive sign and not the only one.

1. Running back D’Andre Swift could not have played much better with 144 rushing yards and a touchdown, and three catches for 31 yards. “It goes without saying Swift is special and we know that. Just getting him his touches, he’s the one, he’s the one that’s the secret sauce,’’ Campbell said. “He can turn routine plays into explosive plays that will hurt you if you’re the opponent.’’

2. Rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, a fan favorite already, had a solid start. “All in all I thought he did a nice job, there’s a couple plays I know he wishes he could have back,’’ Campbell said. “For a rookie who went in and played a substantial role for us I thought he did a nice job. He was physical, he was aggressive, zeros MA’s (missed assignments) he was on top of it. That was good to see. Now we need more out of special teams from him which we’ll get.’’

3. Campbell made a point to mention the fans. “That place was fricking booming. They keep doing that, that gives us a great chance,’’ Campbell said. Seweel said the crowd noise was so loud that at one point he couldn’t hear quarterback Jared Goff and had to kneel down in the huddle to block out the noise. He was not complaining, by the way.

4. Right tackle Penei Sewell said the difference in the offense is night and day from last season. That starts with Goff who threw one interception in the first half but found a groove in the second  half. “There were some rough moments early but I loved the way he responded in the second half to get us back into it. I thought he settled in and did some really good things, he gave us a chance. I was very confident when we get this ball back we’re going to go down and win this game. I felt very good about where we were at offensively with him,’’ Campbell said.

5. Rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson had his ups and downs and notched just one tackle on the stat sheet despite playing 90 percent of the defensive snaps. Campbell is not worried. “The takeaway I had, and I think we all had, was ‘OK, This is what it’s like, this is it. This is the true taste of the NFL and adjusting to that caliber of athlete in a full game,’’’ Campbell said. “Now, there are certainly some things to where it looks like he’s got to make that play, but he needs a little help too. … Honestly I’m not even worried about him, he’s going to adjust from this. He’s prideful, he’s a pro. We already know that about him as a rookie I think we all do. He’s going to want to better himself, he’s going to learn from this and he will be better.’’

(Up next: Washington Commanders (1-0) at Lions (0-1), at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field.)