Detroit Lions fans have been burned on proclamations like this before. I, myself, have been burned on them, too. I’ve said before that previous Lions head coaches were “The One.” I thought Jim Caldwell was that guy and he wasn’t.
But this time, it truly is different. I knew that someday I would make this proclamation again. If you would have told me that it would come during a season where the Lions have one of the worst records in the league, I wouldn't have believed you, but here we are.
This is different for a couple reasons. I’ve been watching this team my entire life. I’ve seen this team have the worst record in the league a lot. I’ve seen that point in the year where you can physically see players and even coaches giving up on the season. If you took any other coach from the Lions’ past and put them in this same situation with this record and having to play against this team, I’m not sure any of them would have coached the Lions to a win.
One of the reasons the Lions beat one of the best teams in the NFL is because they had a team that refused to give up on their coach. They refused to give up because their coach believes in them and they believe in him.
Jared Goff: “On paper, we don’t match up with them. We don’t. … It’s next man up and the idea of: It doesn’t matter who’s out there. We’ve got good a coaching staff we believe in and good fight to us.”— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) December 19, 2021
No player likes to lose. It sucks to not be playing in football games that matter in December. If you can get guys to take that attitude and point it in the direction of something bigger than themselves, you’re a good coach.
Perhaps the biggest reason this is different is because of the clear talent differential the Lions just overcame. I would like to remind you of the Cardinals’ resume. This is a team that was 10-3 and undefeated on the road. They’re one of the best teams in the league and even after this loss, they’re still good enough to possibly make it to the Super Bowl and win it. This was also a team that could have clinched the playoffs with a win on Sunday.
The Lions, on the other hand, went into this game without T.J. Hockenson, Frank Ragnow, Romeo Okwara, D’Andre Swift, Tracy Walker, Jerry Jacobs, Jeff Okudah, Jonah Jackson, Jamaal Williams, Trey Flowers and more. This team went into this game with guys like Brady Breeze and Saivion Smith. No disrespect to either of those guys, but they’re not the guys you see starting football games in the NFL at this time.
Dan Campbell took all of that and still outcoached Kliff Kingsbury—a coach who had the second-best odds to win Coach of the Year before the Lions handed him an 18-point loss. Campbell coached the Lions to a win over one of the top five football teams in the entire league. This wasn’t a last second miracle win, either. This was flat out domination with rookies and practice squad players.
I said in a podcast last January that the biggest trait I wanted to see in the Lions next coach was adaptability. The ability to take what you have and adapt to survive. Matt Patricia lacked that so much. If Patricia coached this game, he’d be running Adrian Peterson up the gut and wondering why the Lions were losing.
A good coach doesn’t fold under the weight of the team’s issues. A good coach finds a way, and Dan Campbell is a good coach who found a way against a really good team.
Maybe you’re wondering why the Lions aren't better if Dan Campbell is such a good coach? You might also be wondering how I could forget about some of the mistakes that Campbell has made this year too.
Well, the answer to that first question is that all the good coaching in the world won’t overrule talent. Talent is going to win more often than not and the Lions have both a shortage of talent and talent that is not fully developed and realized. The good news there is that the Lions coaching staff appears to be doing a pretty darn good job developing talent. Just look at the countless amounts of rookies and second-year players making an impact right now.
As for the coaching mistakes Campbell as made along the way, you probably aren’t going to like my answer. People make mistakes. That’s it. Coaching is a job like any other job. Nobody was good at their job right away without making mistakes. Anyone who has ever read my articles in my first year of writing could tell you I sucked and made a lot of mistakes. I’m not anywhere near perfect, and I never will be. Dan Campbell won’t be perfect either, and perfection isn’t the goal. The goal is to develop talent and win football games. The Lions are well on their way to doing both of those things with Dan Campbell and his staff.
I know it might not seem real, but this really feels like this is it. The Lions are in very good hands, and I very much look forward to seeing where things go from here.