Don’t Blame Dan Campbell

Travis Kriens, – After getting bored and tired of the Minnesota Vikings propensity to play close games and be just plain average these past two seasons, it was a welcomed sight to see the success of another NFC North team, the Detroit Lions during the 2023 season.

Seeing the Lions go from 1-6 to 9-8 in 2022 and knock the Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs during the final game of the season opened some eyes and got some attention. Were the Lions actually going to be good in 2023? A lot of people thought so and it turns out they were right.

After Detroit won at Kansas City, 21-20, to open up 2023, I proclaimed that the Lions were going to the Super Bowl and I wasn’t that far off.

After seeing how they turned things around in 2022, along with the roster they had build, I didn’t think it was that big of a stretch to think the Lions could make an unprecedented run in 2023.

You had Philadelphia, San Francisco and Dallas as the favorites in the NFC and I though Detroit could compete or be better than all of them. With not much competition in the NFC North, the Lions had a great shot to win the division for the first time since 1993.

Fast forward to this past Sunday and Detroit found themselves with a 17 point halftime lead at San Francisco and just one half away from reaching their first Super Bowl. Then, everything fell apart.

The 49ers outscored the Lions 27-7 in the second half. The Lions defense couldn’t come up with stops and the offense that had moved the ball with ease in the first half, stumbled.

With a loss like this, someone has to be blamed. Just don’t blame head coach Dan Campbell.

The easy thing to do on this Monday morning is to point to a pair of failed fourth down conversions in the second half as to why Detroit lost 34-31. “Just kick the field goal,” everyone said. It’s a little more complicated than that.

The Lions converted 52.5% of their fourth down conversion attempts this season on 40 attempts, 12th in the league. That number balloons to 75% on 4th-and-3 or fewer on 20 attempts.

The first failed fourth down was halfway through the third quarter with Detroit still up 24-10. The 49ers opened the second half with a 43-yard field goal from Jake Moody, after he missed a 48-yarder on the first San Francisco possession of the game.

The Lions had a 4th and 2 at the SF 28. A field goal would have been 46 yards for Michael Badgley. Certainly makeable, but hardly automatic.

Dan Campbell rolls the dice and passes up the chance at three points. QB Jared Goff hits WR Josh Reynolds in the hands. Reynolds drops what would have been a first down and the Lions turn the ball over.

The play was there. It worked. Reynolds just dropped it.

After the first failed attempt, Jahmyr Gibbs fumbles and give the ball back to San Francisco and the first play of the very next drive. Not Dan Campbell’s fault.

After a 49ers touchdown ties the game at 24, Detroit responds with drops from Sam LaPorta and Josh Reynolds, both would have gone for first downs.

The next Detroit drive starts the fourth quarter. Jameson Williams hauls in a 22-yard pass that he initially bobbles, before having a 37-yard touchdown go right through his hands, that would have given the Lions a 31-27 lead with 8:36 remaining.

The drive would end on the second failed fourth down attempt, midway through the fourth quarter with the 49ers leading 27-24. Detroit had a 4th and 3 from the SF 30 with just over 7:30 left in the game. It’s an incomplete pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown instead of attempting at 48-yeard field goal to tie the game. Certainly makeable, but hardly automatic.

Over the last three games at San Francisco this season, kickers were 4-for-8 overall with misses from 38, 41, 48 and 48 yards. Are we sure going for it on fourth and short wasn’t the right call?

The Lions would score a late touchdown and the game was over after a failed onside kick. There’s a lot of what if’s and could have beens in a game like this. If you want to blame the fourth down calls, you can, but it might not have made a difference.

The best thing about sports is that nobody has no idea what is going to happen. What are the chances that Detroit makes a 46 and 48 yard field goal, on grass, outdoors, in San Francisco? Again, certainly makeable, but hardly automatic.

Michael Badgley has only hit 59% of his career field goals between 45 and 49 yards.

The problem that I have with the second guessers is that the field goals were not automatic. People just assume that’s an free three points, but they have no idea what would have happened and we never will.

Lets say Detroit makes both field goals. Not factoring in how that would have changed the play calling and how the teams approached the rest of the game, that’s six extra points to put the Lions up 37-34 with 56 second left after scoring a late touchdown.

The 49ers still had one timeout left with 56 seconds to go to try and at least force overtime.

If Detroit only makes one of the two hypothetical field goals, then the game is tied at 34 and the 49ers still have a shot to win it. Or maybe Dan Campbell goes for two and the win. We’ll never know.

Remember, San Francisco kicker Jake Moody missed a 48-yard field goal in the first quarter.

It’s just too easy and convenient to look at the failed fourth down calls when so many other things happened in the game. The tipped 51-yard pass from Brock Purdy to Brandon Aiyuk that could have been intercepted and at the very least, should have been an incompletion seems like a big one.


Nobody is criticizing Dan Campbell for kicking a 21-yard field at the the end of the first half when Detroit had 4th and goal at the three. Why not go for the touchdown? If they convert and trade three points for seven, the Lions possible win the game. You won’t hear a single person bring that decision up.

Nobody had a problem with Detroit converting a 4th and goal from the one last week vs. Tampa Bay in a 10-10 game, early in the second quarter because it resulted in a touchdown.

Too many what if’s. Too many second guesses.

The long field goals were not automatic. I have no problem with Dan Campbell believing in his offense and trying to win the game.

Hopefully the Lions have some sustained success. It comes and goes very quickly. The Packers look to be better next year. The Bears have two top 10 picks in the NFL Draft. The Vikings seem to be content to continue on the road of mediocrity.

Thank you Detroit for the most fun I’ve had watching the NFL in a decade.