When it comes to the Detroit Lions’ 2021 season, many from the outside only see the second-worst record in the NFL. A 2-13-1 record would not normally warrant much excitement or hope from those who just look at the standings.
To be clear, head coach Dan Campbell isn’t pleased with that record either.
“I’m not happy with the wins, I know that,” Campbell said via virtual press conference on Friday. “I would like to have more of those certainly. We all would.”
But win/loss records rarely tell the full story. The Lions went into the 2021 season with extremely low expectations. After trading away Matthew Stafford, shedding the expensive contracts of guys like Jesse James, Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman, and making a bunch of bargain-bin signings out of necessity, the Lions were in a tough position when it came to talent.
However, Campbell saw a ton of progress from the team in 2021, specifically with his young players.
“When you go back and think about some of these guys, where they were in the spring and where they were in training camp and you’re like, ‘My gosh,’” Campbell said. “That’s where you get really encouraged because you do see the steps and sometimes you lose sight of that along the way because you’re not winning and a guy makes a mistake that you wish he wouldn’t make. But, when you just step back from it all and look at where you’ve come from and a number of these players, I am encouraged.”
That sense of encouragement appears to be felt by the fans, too. Ever since Detroit finally picked up their first win of the season against the Minnesota Vikings, our Reacts fanbase has bought all the way into Campbell and the Lions’ future.
That buy-in trickles down to everyone. For running backs/assistant head coach Duce Staley, that belief came the minute he walked in the door. It was a gut feeling for him, but it was also a result of seeing Campbell put in the work every day and bring the infectious energy and juice.
“You just watch him and you get a chance to follow him and be around him, you know how much he cares about winning,” Staley said. “You know how much he cares about these players, and these players know it. And that’s the first thing when you go to war, man. When you go to war and you’re in the foxhole, that man next to you has got to know you care about him, so both of you are fighting the same battle.”
That belief—both internally and externally—is an important part of the process because the Lions went through a lot of adversity this year. Whether it was losing on a record-breaking kick or some of the offensive and defensive leaders on this team suffering serious injuries, it was a rocky road this season. But the buy-in remains, one of the clearer signs of a changed and sustainable culture.
“That’s the No. 1 thing: you’ve got to get them to believe, and they do,” Staley said. “And you go back and you go and look at these games that we lost, and you look at these games that we were right there, close. A lot of times, when you lose the way we have lost, it’s hard to get them back up to fight again. Not this team, because, once again, they believe–and that’s (because of) Dan.”
Campbell knows that progress is not easy to see for everyone. He knows Detroit has gone through culture changes before, and that fans will be understandably skeptical given that the wins haven’t come yet. But he’s seen enough to truly believe the team is headed in the right direction.
“We’re in the Arctic Ocean, but we’re headed to the Caribbean. You can see it, I can see it, it’s not always easy to see. There’s a long way to go, but we’re heading there, I do know that.”
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