Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell has never been shy to dial up his aggression. In fact, he’s been one of the most aggressive coaches in the NFL since he took over the Lions. But his call at the end of the team’s 41-38 win over the Los Angeles Chargers deserves extra praise because it was the single biggest factor in Detroit coming out of Los Angeles with the win.
With the Lions and Chargers tied at 38 with 1:47 left, Detroit could have opted to kick a 44-yard field goal. Instead, Detroit decided to go for it on a fourth-and-2. Seeing as the Chargers only had one timeout left, a conversion would have essentially iced the game. However, a failure on fourth down would give the Chargers the ball back in a tie game with plenty of time to get in field goal range for a game-winning kick.
Lions rookie Sam LaPorta continues to be a safety net for Jared Goff. Great job settling here and making the play through traffic to move the chains.— Seven Rounds in Heaven (@7RoundsInHeaven) November 13, 2023
The second-round pick out of Iowa has had an incredible rookie season. pic.twitter.com/wI8nD4nLGV
But the Lions didn’t fail to convert. Goff went through his progressions and found rookie tight end Sam LaPorta for 6-yards. After taking a few knees, the Lions kicked the game-winning field goal with zero seconds on the clock.
“I wanted to finish with the ball,” Campbell said after the game. “I trusted our guys, I trusted Goff. Going into that situation—there’s going to be a lot of time left (if) you kick a field goal.”
While Campbell didn’t outright say it, a lot of what went into Campbell’s decision was the play of the team’s defense. The Chargers had scored touchdowns on five straight drives, and if the Lions had kicked a field goal, they would have had plenty of time to either tie the game or win it.
But Campbell’s decision also reflects the confidence he has in the Lions’ offense. Detroit entered the game with every one of their starters healthy, including the running back tandem of Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery, who combined for 193 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Additionally, the Lions had been excellent on gotta-have-it downs prior to this play. The Lions had already converted three-of-four fourth downs.
“I liked where we were at offensively. We’re playing good, Goff was in a good spot, and I just felt like that was the right thing to do.”
Campbell was obviously aware of the risk of not converting, but he clearly had no second thoughts about the decision.
“Some say it’s a boneheaded move and some say it's not,” Campbell said. “I made the decision and I stick by that decision.”
Not many would call that decision boneheaded after the result, but analytical models were actually in favor of the field goal here. ESPN’s model slightly favored going for it, as did Ben Baldwin’s model. However, those models don’t provide the proper context of Detroit’s offense being unstoppable on Sunday while Detroit’s defense could buy a stop.
Campbell’s move was obviously popular with the Lions' offensive players.
“I was excited,” receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said after the game. “I even gave Campbell a high five coming off the sidelines. I don’t know how many coaches are going to go for that in that situation. So hat’s off to him.”
“He’s got big balls and he showed it there,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “It’s a lot of fun when he puts the ball in our hands to make a play.”