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.)

Lions pull together and hang on for 36-27 win over Commanders

DETROIT – Through the years, under a variety of coaches, the Lions have folded down the stretch in games and seasons. Big leads don’t necessarily lead to big wins. That’s just how it has been.

It appears — and it’s early in the season — that is starting to change. 

As proof, the Lions held on for a 36-27 win over the Washington Commanders on Sunday at Ford Field. 

Detroit jumped out to a 22-0 lead at the half, but everyone in the stadium knew the game was far from over, the win far from assured. Offense, defense and special teams all pitched in to seal the victory putting the Lions at 1-1.

“It feels good to win. There’s a lot of hard work that’s put in across the board. The best thing about it is our guys trust in the system, they believe in what we’re doing as coaches and the schemes and they believe in how we’re setting up for success,’’ coach Dan Campbell said. “They believe in the plan and they execute the plan.”

Not to mention they have solid coaching, depth at key spots and budding superstars like D’Andre Swift, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Aidan Hutchinson.

One third-quarter series was a microcosm of what happened in the game.

The Commanders had just scored a touchdown to close the gap to 22-15 with 4:30 left in the third. If ever the Lions needed the offense to come through, this was the time.

On first down, they called a play they’ve had in their hip pocket for a time just like this. St. Brown performed it (with a little help) to perfection for a 58-yard gain. 

“So that whole first half I was motioning across, almost every drive, running across. I feel as a defense at some point you don’t pay a mind to it,’’ St. Brown explained. “This was a play we had in this week and we knew if we got it, it would hit big. Q (Quintez Cephus) had a great block, Craig (Reynolds) had a good fake. No one knew I had the ball. I don’t think the safety who was looking at me knew I had the ball. All I hear from the defense is ‘Oh sh-t.’ I knew that was a big play.’’

St. Brown blames the Jumbo-tron for not scoring. It’s a second or so behind and when he looked up, he was going to start high-kicking when he got tackled at the Commanders’ 17-yard line.

Next play, quarterback Jared Goff was sacked. The 5-yard loss didn’t deflate the offense, instead it seemed to pump them up.

On second-and-15, Goff’s pass to T.J. Hockenson was incomplete. Then on third-and-15, Goff threw a pass short right to Swift. He fell but was untouched by the defense, so he got up and ran in for the score.

At first look, Goff thought at least it was good for a first down, then he watched Swift get up and run into the end zone. Even better.

That touchdown and extra point boosted the lead to 29-15 which was key.

St. Brown set team and NFL records with nine catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns along with two carries for 68 yards.

“He’s as steady as they come, he’s as steady as a rock. You can always depend on what he’s going to bring every day. Not just on Sunday, but on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,’’ Campbell said. “He’s been that way since he walked in the door as a rookie and nothing has changed. He expects a lot of himself and us as a team and that offense and he’s reliable, he’s a good athlete and he’s explosive and he’s strong.’’

The offensive line featured three non-starters in the middle and they performed. Campbell noted them before he took questions after the game. Dan Skipper, who had never played guard in an NFL game, started at left guard. Evan Brown was in at center for Frank Ragnow (toe) and Logan Stenberg got his second straight start at right guard.

They certainly got some help but without them there is no way the Lions would have rushed for 191 yards 

The defense, which had a stranglehold on the Commanders in the first half allowing them just 56 total yards, softened up in the second half. 

Rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson sacked Carson Wentz three times in the first half — his first three NFL sacks. In the opener he was OK, but Campbell said he had no worries. It’s clear why.

“You learn from stuff and you move on. I don’t think that I played bad in the first game. But definitely, I had a lot more opportunity I felt in this game and I made the most of it,’’ Hutchinson said. “Yeah, I think I played good in both games but definitely, I made the most of my opportunities in this game.”

When Wentz wasn’t sacked — the Lions got him five times — he was pressured early and often. 

“All those guys up front, they did a good job. They were much better than last week because they were much more disciplined,’’ Campbell said.

The defense played like a group possessed in the first half and made key plays when it mattered in the second like Will Harris’ interception of Wentz in the third quarter.

 “I think we just came into the game prepared. Came in with the mentality, ‘Last week wasn’t good enough.’ So this was an opportunity to correct some of those mistakes and hone in on the details,’’ said cornerback Jeff Okudah who left the game in the fourth quarter due to cramping.

Building this Lions team is a process which started last year with a 3-13-1 record.

It’s clear after Sunday’s win they are moving in the right direction in all three areas including the offense.

“We scored 35 last week, scored 36 this week, and you still feel like, ‘Ah, but that – but that one.’ And I can’t think of a few ones off the top of my head, but that one would have really blown the game wide open, and that’s our next step, right? That’s our next step of going – becoming that maybe more mature, understanding-the-moment team, being able to take those – take advantage of those opportunities and it starts with me,’’ Goff said. “I’ve got to hit some of those throws and really get on the same page with those guys. We are, just it’s more reps and making sure we know the landmarks and everything, it’s mostly me. But like you’re saying, it’s – we feel good about what we did today, but there’s so much more out there for us.”

(Up next: Lions (1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-0 with game scheduled for Monday night), at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25.)

Five things to watch as Lions face Commanders; plus prediction

The second week in the NFL can’t produce a must-win game. However the Lions need a win over the Commanders to get to 1-1. When losses snowball it’s never a good thing, ask any Lions fan. 

The Lions played in front of a raucous and loud crowd in their opening loss to the Eagles. They want to keep the fans in the game and winning is a surefire way to accomplish that.

Coach Dan Campbell said he’s not talking about winning to the team.

“I’m talking about playing better, and let’s clean up our details. Because if we do, that winning is a byproduct of that. That’s got to be our sole focus, and so man, let’s just play better than we played last week,’’ Campbell said. “To a man, let’s coach better. I’ve got to coach better, our coordinators have got to coach better, the position coaches, and the player’s got to play better. And if we’ll just – everyone of us get a little bit better and clean up these issues, and the same issues that have bitten us or bit us last week, they don’t show up again, we’ll be that much better. That’s all we’ve got to worry about.”

Here are five things to watch as the favored Lions (0-1) face the Commanders (1-0):

1. The offensive line injury woes continue. Center Frank Ragnow (groin) has been ruled out and likely will be replaced by Evan Brown. Left guard Jonah Jackson (finger) was downgraded to doubtful on Saturday. And remember, starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai (back) was placed on IR before the opener. He was replaced by Logan Stenberg who had a rough first series but calmed down. Stenberg could line up at right guard again or shift to left guard. It’s likely Drew Forbes, who has been with the Lions for two weeks, will start at one of the guard spots. Campbell said the rash of O-line injuries changes what they do a bit. “Just the style at which we need to play and you just – you will have to shift the burden a little bit, other places of the load to other places on our team, which is OK. It’s what we got to do. It’s what we’re charged with,’’ Campbell said. Last season the five O-line starters never played together in one of the 17 games due to injuries. 

2. In his second game in this new offense, quarterback Jared Goff needs to step up. The offense seemed to find a rhythm in the second half on Sunday against the Eagles when the Lions scored three touchdowns.There was plenty to like last week.Goff threw both of his touchdowns on third downs. “I think the stuff that we loved was we scored every time we got in the red zone and we were really efficient on third down. And typically those numbers are resulting in wins and ultimately, this one didn’t,’’ Goff said this week. “But I think if we can continue that trend, it’ll be good for us.”

3. The defense struggled more than the offense giving up 38 points to the Eagles. Of course Washington quarterback Carson Wentz is not as mobile as Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts which should make a huge difference. Rookie Aidan Hutchinson is expected to take another step in his development (he wasn’t bad in his debut, but perhaps more was expected). Cornerback Jeff Okudah, coming back from a torn Achilles in the opener a year ago, impressed, finishing second in tackles with 10.

4. Running back D’Andre Swift sparked the offense against the Eagles with 144 of the Lions 181 rushing yards. Swift (ankle) is on the injury report and listed as questionable, but should be able to go. Will he be 100 percent? Not likely. Still the Lions need to be able to count on the running attack. “It’s helpful for any passing attack. I think it’s a quarterback’s best friend when you can have that and have the play-action off of it and the keeper’s stuff off of it, the roll outs and whatnot,’’ Goff said. “So, it’s super helpful and it’s fun to watch Swift take off too..” If Swift is gimpy, Jamaal Williams can help pick up the slack.

5. Perhaps you’ve heard this from previous seasons and coaches, the Lions need to finish. This team is better than last year’s bunch but there’s a long way to go. The Lions were down 17 points in the third quarter on Sunday, but the comeback came up 3 points short. It’s all in the details.

PREDICTION:  Lions 27, Commanders 21. The Lions know this is a big home game against a beatable opponent.