On Sunday, Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell was making some seriously aggressive decisions all afternoon. In total, the Lions went for it six times throughout the day, and in many of those instances, he was right to do so. A fourth-and-5 conversion in the first quarter led to Detroit’s opening touchdown of the game, and a pair of fourth-and-1 conversions helped Detroit jump out to a quick 14-0 lead.
But oftentimes you’re going to be judged by how you finish games and the critical decisions in the heat of the moment. And that’s when Campbell unequivocally failed at his job.
You can question whether the Lions got a little too conservative on offense late in the game. You can question whether they got a little too cutesy on some third downs—including a late third-and-1 deep shot. You could even question Campbell’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 with under four minutes left from the Vikings’ 30-yard line.
Those decisions were certainly questionable, but they’re also pretty easily defendable.
What is almost impossible to defend was Campbell’s last tough decision he had to make. With 1:14 left to go, the Lions were facing a fourth-and-4 from the Vikings’ 36-yard line. Up three points, the Lions had three options:
- Do as they’ve done all game and go for it. A conversion wins the game, as the Vikings are out of timeouts. A failure to convert would give the Vikings the ball at their own 36.
- Punt the ball, hoping to pin the Vikings deep with your very good punter Jack Fox. At worst, you’re forcing the Vikings to drive 80 yards for the win, 40 for the tie.
- Attempt a 54-yard field goal, with the opportunity to push the lead to 6. Missing said field goal would give the Vikings excellent field position at their own 46-yard line.
That’s when Campbell, in my opinion, chose the worst of the three options. He sent out the field goal team.
Austin Seibert had already missed 48-yard field goal in the game, bouncing it off the right upright. For his career, Seibert was just 2-of-5 from 50+ yards, and he was extremely inconsistent during camp from long distance.
Predictably, Seibert missed the kick—and it wasn’t particularly close. It took the Vikings just three plays to find the end zone from there, scoring the game-winning touchdown with just 45 seconds remaining.
Analytics heavily favored the Lions going for it in that situation, with a small edge to kicking the field goal over punting. But given that Seibert has not proved to be a reliable distance kicker, it’s reasonable to say that kicking the field goal was the worst option of the three.
Lions last FG attempt pic.twitter.com/j8quZCDgoB— 4th down decision bot (@ben_bot_baldwin) September 25, 2022
After the game, Campbell admitted he made a mistake.
“I fricken regret my decision there in the end,” Campbell said after the game. “I should have gone for it on fourth down, and I told the team I should’ve gone for it.”
He later added: “I regret that decision 100 percent. I really do, Dave (Birkett). I hate it, and I do feel like I cost our team. I really do, man.”
Coach Campbell on the decision to attempt a FG instead of going for it late in today's game pic.twitter.com/MIl6Xu7tKm— Detroit Lions (@Lions) September 25, 2022
Unfortunately, that decision is going to have to sit with him for the next seven days, as the Lions lost a prime opportunity to notch their first road win and take an early lead in the NFC North race.