Sometimes overreactions are appropriate. And in the case of Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions, they’ve earned every hysterical and asinine hot take fans and analysts will make about them Friday morning — and maybe throughout the rest of the season. It’s time to drink the Kool-Aid. The Lions are legit.
“We’re built for this. We really are,” Detroit quarterback Jared Goff said after the game to NBC’s Melissa Stark.
For a Michigan native like myself, I was stunned that this franchise pulled it off. You have to remember that they haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. I was eight years old. I turn 40 in a few months. I’m still in shock, especially for someone who wrote — and believed — that Campbell should have been fired last October.
My apologies Dan. You and your team proved me wrong.
While there are still 16 games left on the schedule, the Lions have given their fanbase something tangible to believe in. Between the infamous and childish “knee biting” comment that Campbell made, and their appearance on last year’s HBO’s Hard Knocks that turned them into loveable media darlings, they still hadn’t made a bold statement until Thursday night.
Last year, Detroit finished 9-8 after beating the Green Bay Packers on the road and damn near celebrated like they had won a Super Bowl. It felt like they didn’t realize that with a 17-game schedule, 9-8 is now the new 8-8 — which means that achieving “averageness” was the reason for their jubilee. It was like watching an F student become a C student, not understanding that college admissions counselors and scholarship overseers were still just going to view them as…a C student.
But, after you stop the Chiefs from winning their ninth consecutive season opener, you’ve transformed into a student on the merit roll that’s aiming to make the National Honor Society, especially in a game that felt like it was meant for you to lose.
Despite Kansas City being without Travis Kelce and Chris Jones, in addition to Chiefs’ receivers dropping more passes than I could count, watching the Lions go three-and-out on the first drive of the game felt like a loss was their destiny. But yet, they kept hanging around and even had multiple leads.
And then the moment happened. With 2:29 left in the fourth quarter on the Chiefs 49-yard-line, Campbell decided to go for it on fourth-and-2. Goff threw an incomplete pass. It felt like Detroit was about to let go of their 21-20 lead after giving Patrick Mahomes all that time to come back and win it at home.
But the unthinkable happened. Mahomes didn’t get it done, and Detroit didn’t revert to the “same ole Lions.”
“Yeah, not today,” said Goff when asked what was going through his mind at that moment on the sidelines.
Leading up to Thursday’s game, Lions rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs was already on record for saying he was focused on winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and surpassing 1,000 yards on the ground and 500 receiving yards. General Manager Brad Holmes followed that up by saying his level of confidence was “very high” when it came to winning the NFC North.
“We’re not scared of the expectations,” he said. “The expectations are earned through, I think, what we’ve built and what we’ve done up until this point in terms of how we finished the end of the season and through our player acquisition process. But now we’ve got to just prove them right.”
Members of the Lions organization — a franchise that has historically done nothing but be a letdown — were publicly speaking with confidence and swagger. It was the perfect recipe for a poor outing on national television in the kickoff game to the 2023 season against the defending champs, and they actually won.
This is what disbelief looks like.
Up next, Detroit will face the Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as they have a very favorable schedule in a season in which they’ll have almost as many primetime games as the Philadelphia Eagles — a team that was arguably a play away from winning the Super Bowl.
It’s early, and in the NFL a team can fall off a cliff in the blink of an eye. Who knows what’s in store for these Lions and what the future will hold while Dan Campbell is in charge? But none of that matters after Thursday night. Because for once, the Detroit Lions shut up people like me and did something they’ve very rarely done — not f*ck it up when it matters. That’s how you build a foundation and turn things around when you’re attempting to right the ship of a franchise that’s been lost at sea — forever.
Carron J. Phillips