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Lions ‘out-coached’ and ‘outplayed’ Cardinals, took the next step in learning how to win

“They out-coached us, outplayed us.” — Kliff Kingsbury

NFL: DEC 19 Cardinals at Lions Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals entered Week 15 as the top team in the NFC with a chance to secure their spot in the playoffs and avenge a division loss to the Rams the previous Monday night by beating up on a perceived weaker opponent.

The Detroit Lions entered the game with the worst record in the league, a roster depleted by injury and COVID-19, a focused “next man up” approach, and a desire to learn how to win—something they have been on the cusp of all season long, but only achieved once.

The result was an Any Given Sunday reminder that, no matter how good of a team you are, if you don’t enter a game prepared to win, then you better be prepared to get smacked in the mouth.

“I’ve got to tip my hat to Detroit, I thought they had a tremendous plan,” Cardinals’ coach Kliff Kingsbury said in his post-game press conference after suffering a 30-12 defeat to the Lions. “Like I said, they out-coached us, outplayed us.”

The Lions won every phase of the game. They established the run and were creative in the passing game. They got pressure on the quarterback and forced turnovers. They had a winning game plan and they executed it exactly how they wanted to.

“How we played the game today is how we talked about playing it all week,” Lions’ left tackle Taylor Decker said after the game. “You know we’ve had spurts of where the defense will do what they need to do but then maybe the offense doesn’t, or the offense will, you know whatever. Special teams has been pretty damn good all year. But (today) we just played a complete game.”

The Lions aren’t as talented as a lot of the teams in the NFL—it comes with the territory in a rebuild—but this team has shown perseverance and the will to compete every week.

“You guys are a tough, gritty group man,” coach Dan Campbell said to the team in his post-victory locker room speech. “You’re a tough gritty group. You always have been. And now, you’re seeing it pay dividends. Man, look, a team gets one out, two out, we got multiple out, and multiple guys stepped up, and that’s what we’re capable of.”

The Lions were indeed without a lot of their top players, including starters Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson, TJ Hockenson, D’Andre Swift, Quintez Cephus, Romeo Okwara, Trey Flowers, Jeff Okudah, and Tracy Walker, as well as interim starters Jerry Jacobs and Jamaal Williams.

But this team has never used injuries as an excuse—they just preach the next man up approach.

“You learn how hard it is to win, and then you win a game like today against arguably the best team in the league,” quarterback Jared Goff said after the win. “On paper, we don’t match up with them. On paper, we don’t. On defense, we had Will Harris playing corner. I don’t know what they did on him, but I would imagine it wasn’t much. Brady Breeze, just got here, playing safety a little bit. Anzalone goes out, and he’s one of our better players. You’ve got Craig Reynolds playing running back. You’ve got Jermar Jefferson playing running back. Tommy Kraemer is playing guard.

“It’s next man up, and it’s the idea of it doesn’t matter who’s out there. We’ve got a good coaching staff that we believe in and a good fight to us that allows us to win games like this.”

The fight is definitely there with this team, and as the coaches implement their philosophies on this roster, the younger players are trusting, absorbing, improving, and learning how to win.

“Don’t forget we got a ton of young guys now that are learning and they’re growing,” Campbell told MMQB’s Albert Breer, “and they’re seeing this like ‘Hey man, no you don’t give up. You just keep going.’ There is hope. There is a belief that if we do it the right way this is what we can do and become.”

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.