Lions coach Dan Campbell credits veteran players for team’s growth

ALLEN PARK — While many of the Lions rookies have been drawing well-deserved praise for the recent turn-around, coach Dan Campbell opened his Monday presser with words of appreciation for the veterans.

After Sunday’s 34-23 win over the Vikings, the Lions have now won five of their last six and playoffs remain a possibility. The team has matured after a 1-6 start, with the veterans leading the way for the talented class of rookies. 

“Sometimes you lose sight of it, you don’t ever want to take it for granted, but they play at such a high level week in and week out. They’re a huge part of our success,’’ Campbell said.

He specifically named left tackle Taylor Decker, center Frank Ragnow, linebacker Jarrad Davis, fullback Jason Cabinda, linebacker Alex Anzalone, special teams C.J. Moore and defensive lineman Romeo Okwara. He also mentioned defensive lineman Michael Brockers who hasn’t been activated in recent games. 

“He’s a huge part, he’s helped develop those young guys in that D-line room. I don’t want that to be lost. Those guys are damned good players for us, they’ve been outstanding in the locker room, they’re great leaders,’’ Campbell said. “They’re workers and they set the tone for everybody and those young bucks fall right in line. We have a number of those guys.’’

Of all the veterans, Decker has the longest tenure in Detroit. A first-round draft pick in 2016, the left tackle has seen the ups and downs from a playoff loss in his rookie season to struggles to get back to the postseason or even just to win more than a handful of games. 

“Honestly I know they’re all kind of similar. Decker is one of the guys I think about. He’s the player who has been around here the longest, he saw some early success then some rough times,’’ Campbell said. “Now to be able to have some hope back is the best way to say it. I know he’s having fun, he’s very much invested in this team. He’s all in. That’s one of the guys you want to win for, you want to help him get there. But we appreciate him, man. He’s putting in the work, he’s all in, he’s a true pro.’’

On Sunday the Lions will play at the N.Y. Jets (7-6), a team that has lost three of its last four. The final three games are at the Carolina Panthers (5-8) on Dec. 24, home to Chicago (3-10) on Jan. 1 and at Green Bay (5-8) on Jan. 7/8.

Lions frustrated after another close loss, this time to Dolphins

DETROIT — Perhaps Taylor Decker sums up the Lions’ frustrations with a few words.

“It’s exhausting, but there’s nothing I can do other than go back to work. There’s nothing this team can do other than show up to practice on Wednesday with a good attitude and try to get this thing right,’’ the left tackle said after Sunday’s 31-27 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Ford Field. “When there’s opportunities we just have to capitalize. This sucks.’’

Coach Dan Campbell echoed the sentiments. The Lions, who dropped to 1-6, have to keep working to somehow eke out a win.

“My thought is as frustrating as it is, I know how close we are because we are still talking about one play,’’ Campbell said. “The hard thing is to just keep doing your job and staying in the thick of the storm. The easy thing is to go down below and get under the blanket, eat all the food and whatever. The guys who are going to stay on the deck, continue to do their part cause they know the sun is coming, those are the guys we’re looking for.that’s how I choose to think of this.’’

When reminded that he has said this often, he replied, “Two years, two years.”

Five of the many things that played a key role in the loss:

1. The Lions held a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter and were up 21-7 at the half. The offense was good for 326 yards in the first half and 67 yards in the second half. Detroit had just three second-half possessions. The difference was mostly penalties — five in the second half, one in the first half. On the Lions’ first possession in the third they were whistled for three straight – false start (Penei Sewell), offensive holding (Sewell)  and false start (Decker). “In those 3 possessions I didn’t feel they did anything defensively that took us out of what we were doing …. It had nothing to do with them, that’s on us,that’s a self-inflicted wound we took ourselves out of our own rhythm.’’

2. With less than 3 minutes left, and the Lions behind 31-27, they had a fourth-and-1 at the Miami 35. Instead of going for the yardage, Jared Goff heaved one to Josh Reynolds in the end zone but he couldn’t grab it. It’s just one play of many but could have kept them in the game.

3. Detroit’s defense, which looked like it made a turn-around in the loss at Dallas a week ago, was overwhelmed. Miami finished with 476 total yards. They only punted once. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa finished 29 of 36 for 382 yards and three touchdowns. “We didn’t hit them at the line, that was part of the game plan. We did not disrupt. … We didn’t want to turn it into a track meet and it was a track meet,’’ Campbell said. He said coaches and players were at fault at not handling the defensive game plan that was specifically designed for the Dolphins.

4. After no touchdowns in the previous two games, it looked like the offense had made a turn for the better with three first-half scores. Goff played better, especially in the first half. He finished 27 of 37 for 321 yards and one touchdown. He was only sacked once. Nothing worked in the second half. “I don’t know how many drives we had in the first half, but we only had three in the second half and the two we kind of killed ourselves with penalties,” Goff said. “Kind of put us behind the eight-ball situation there and that last drive was the drive to win the game and we didn’t finish it.”

5. Close doesn’t count and Campbell would be the first to say so. In four of the Lions’ six losses they have lost by a total of 14 points, including a 4-point difference on Sunday. Campbell said that coach Bill Parcells used to say the only way to win close games is to win close games. Of course, it’s easier said than done. 

(Next up: Packers at Lions, 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, at Ford Field.)

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.)