Let’s preface everything here by simply saying that I am in absolutely no way calling for the job of Dan Campbell. Not one bit. He is a good coach and he has the Detroit Lions heading in the right direction. With that said, there are some legitimate reasons to question if Campbell is currently fit to handle the pressure of the moment.
The reason I ask this question is because the finish of Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings was something of a highlight reel of bad decision making that ultimately cost the Lions a divisional win and their first road victory since December of 2020.
The Lions were set up with a fourth-and-4 on the Vikings’ 36-yard line. The Vikings were out of timeouts and the clock was winding down. There were two things the Lions could have done here. Go for it on fourth down for the seventh time of the day. Why not? The Lions had converted four times already. A first down wins the game. Why not try it?
The safer bet would have been to bring one of the league's best punters onto the field to pin Minnesota as deep as possible and let the Vikings try to work their way down field with no timeouts. The Lions did neither. They, instead, opted to kick a field goal with a kicker who had previously missed a 48 yarder and had never in his professional career made a field goal as long as this 54-yard attempt.
That’s bad enough. What’s worse is that Campbell then called his final timeout on the Vikings’ ensuing drive while the clock was wearing down. Campbell said he wanted to settle the defense down and give them a breather, but the Lions immediately gave up the game-winning touchdown on the next play, so mission failed. The right thing to do would be to keep letting that clock run and try to get out of there with a Vikings field goal before heading to overtime.
This stuff is really bad, and it’s unacceptable. It’s the kind of thing that decimates the good will the Lions would have had if they had simply lost the game to the better team. That’s not what happened. The Lions were arguably the better team and they beat themselves. It really makes you wonder if Dan Campbell can handle it. Can Campbell come in and make the right decisions in the toughest of moments. Games in the NFL are decided by the thinnest of margins, and if you can’t make the right decisions in critical moments, you will lose games for your team.
That’s exactly what Campbell did, even he regrets his decision.
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
I respect that he owned up to the bad decision and he’s man enough to take the blame. Still, saying “I’m sorry I messed up” over and over again isn’t good enough. The right decisions need to be made the first time around.
Why is this an overreaction?
It’s simply an overreaction, because we haven’t really Campbell in these critical moments very often yet. Sure, there was the double timeout on Thanksgiving last year, and you could argue some conservative defensive play calling against the Ravens cost them. But Detroit has also been in games they had no business being in because of some coaching decisions.
Campbell gets a small pass here because it was essentially a first-time thing, and he recognizes exactly what went wrong. That recognition is a big deal considering the last regime really didn’t seem to have that trait in their arsenal.
The bigger thing for the Lions here is that they need to figure out how to put away games earlier so they don’t have to put themselves in this scenario at the end of the day. The Lions had multiple possessions late in the game where they could have capitalized and run up thescore. They didn’t do that at any point. They forced a fumble and a turnover on downs and gave the ball right back on both possessions.
There’s questions to ask about coaching, but there’s also questions to ask about players. Are they getting too ahead of themselves out there? Are they letting off the gas? Worse yet, are they letting the pressure get to them to the point where they are shooting themselves in the foot with bad penalties?
It’s not time to panic yet. This isn’t Jim Caldwell blowing the Bengals game with the playoffs on the line. There’s a lot of football left to be played. This team still has plenty of time to go out and make things happen and still have a shot at maybe even making the playoffs. There are 14 games left and still five divisional contests.