You have to go back to the starting point here. You have to go back to Dan Campbell’s opening press conference a few years ago when he was named coach of the Detroit Lions, which was a bit of a surprise.
You remember, right? Because it’s hard to forget.
“This team is going to kick you in the teeth,” he said on Jan. 21, 2021. “When you knock us down, we’re going to bite our kneecaps off on the way up. Stand up, if You knock us down again and we’ll get up and bite the other kneecap off.”
He forgot to mention the fact that if you’re a Lions fan, you’ve been waiting for a savior to drag you out of the football desert for over 66 years, and you buy into what Campbell is selling and invest every ounce of your Join this fun, fierce, fearless football team…
Well, thanks to him, it was the most important day in Detroit football history since the Eisenhower administration…
He’s going to bite your kneecap.
He’s going to kick you in the teeth.
He’s going to elbow you in the stomach.
He’ll step on you in… well, all the other places you don’t want to be kicked, as the Lions’ dream scenario this season went straight into the wood chipper Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, The 49ers wowed them34-31.
Look, Campbell was probably the biggest reason the Lions came into this game because he believed in his team – and asked the team to believe in themselves – all year long, all the way to 12-5, all the way to first place in the NFC North, Winning back-to-back games at home in the NFC playoffs, leading the mighty and awful 49ers 24-7 at halftime on Sunday. And much of this shows up in his unconventional approach to work: taking chances, living on the edge, and having faith in his employees.
19 1/2 games in 20 1/2 weeks, great to watch.
The last 30 minutes of Sunday was like watching a stand-up comedian slowly die on stage, one joke after another, one awkward silence after another.
“We knew they weren’t going to leave and they finished the game today,” Campbell said at the end of the game. “They did it, they went through it and they finished the game.”
“It’s hard. When you lose games, they say it’s hard. You feel like your heart is being torn out. I’m proud of this team and I’ll go anywhere with this team. We did a lot today. We didn’t do enough.”
All of this is true. But here’s the thing: In the most important game of his coaching career, Campbell viewed the NFC Championship Game as an easy Week 7 matchup against the Cardinals. Sometimes it takes boldness, sometimes wisdom, once pushing the envelope and once keeping a secret. Three times Campbell made decisions that undermined his team.
Leading 24-10, Campbell could have — should have — ordered a 46-yard field goal on fourth-and-2 to make it three points; but instead he did. The 49ers held their ground. A few minutes later, the score became 24-17 and the game was over. Nine people have lives.
Trailing 27-24 with seven minutes remaining, he could have — should have — another 48-yard field goal to tie the game. He shoots again. The 49ers once again held on. Soon enough, the score was 34-24.
Campbell was desperate to extend the game, and he could have — should have — done one of two things with his team trailing by 10 points with less than two minutes left. He could have made a field goal with 80 seconds left. , still with all the suspension. He didn’t. On the third goal, he chose a running tactic, which meant he had to take a timeout. The Lions scored but were unable to execute the onside kick.
“I feel really good about the transition. It was easy — in hindsight, I get it,” Campbell said. “But I don’t regret those decisions. I understood the scrutiny I would have received, but it just didn’t work out.”
The wait continues in Detroit. The person who gave them dreams also extinguished their dreams. It’s a bite to the kneecap and a kick to the teeth.