What do the 1962 and 2023 Detroit Lions have in common? It’s not a question most figured would be asked at the start of the season. But here we are.
Following their mistake-filled 31-26 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the Lions are off to their best start since that 1962 campaign. We’re talking six decades of painful Lions football that has included a mere 12 playoff appearances and exactly one postseason win.
Sunday’s win over Chicago was not perfect. Jared Goff threw three interceptions. The Lions yielded 183 rushing yards while committing four total turnovers. Heck, the Bears doubled up Detroit in time of possession.
Typically, this is a game that the Lions would have lost in the past. Mistakes. Losing in the trenches. Big giveaways. But these are not your parents (and grandparents) Detroit Lions. They are different. They are a complete vibe.
“It may take the fourth quarter to finally get this one,” head coach Dan Campbell said earlier in the week.
About that? Detroit found itself down 26-14 after Chicago took nearly nine minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter, leading to a field goal with just 4:15 remaining in the final stanza.
That’s when Goff did his thing, leading Detroit down the field on two touchdown-scoring drives of 75 yards and 73 yards, respectively. It culminated in a David Montgomery one-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds remaining to give Detroit the lead.
Did we mention that the Lions were their own vibe? Hutchinson’s game-sealing play represented that to a T at home Sunday afternoon. As for Goff, he completed 10-of-12 passes for 115 yards on those final two drives after being a mistake waiting to happen earlier in the game.
Detroit Lions as legitimate Super Bowl contenders
Detroit now boasts the second-best record in the NFL heading into Week 12. Yes, you read that right. The second-best record in the NFL. This is not a typo.
The team entered Week 11 ranked sixth in the NFL in scoring at 26.8 points per game. Goff was playing stellar football (14 TD, 5 INT). Rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs had stepped up recently with 309 total yards in his past two games. Amon-Ra St. Brown (65 receptions, 821 yards) looked like a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
While Goff struggled and Gibbs only tallied 36 yards on the ground against the Bears, other members of the Lions stepped up. A first-round pick last year, wide receiver Jameson Williams made his first real impact on offense Sunday.
“He’s part of the herd,” Campbell said about Williams after the game. “He’s been accepted. The way he goes and blocks and he’s starting to run some pretty good routes. He’s making some catches. There’s a lot of guys that are beginning to trust him.”
Meanwhile, young Detroit Lions defenders made their impact known in a big way. In addition to Hutchinson’s game-sealing play, rookie safety Brian Branch added a whopping three tackles for loss. Alim McNeill came through with five pressures and two quarterback hits on Justin Fields in the win.
That’s what makes a complete team. With the stars struggling for a majority of Sunday’s game, others stepped up and played at an elite clip.
It’s something we’ve seen from other top Super Bowl contenders in that of the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers all season long. We can now put Detroit in that category of elite-level teams. That is to say, winning ugly.
Now, for the first time since all the way back in 2016, the Lions are heading into their Thanksgiving game thinking postseason football. They’ll also have an opportunity to send the hated Green Bay Packers to another loss while pretty much ending their playoff aspirations.
But for Campbell and the Lions, this success did not come on a whim. They finished last season winning eight of their final 10 games. In fact, the foundation was set when the Lions made Campbell a surprise hire ahead of the 2021 season.
“This place has been kicked, it’s been battered, it’s been bruised, and I can sit up here and give you coach-speak all day long. I can give you, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this many games.’ None of that matters, and you guys don’t want to hear it anyway. You’ve had enough of that sh*t,” Campbell said at his intro press conference.
At that time, Campbell had taken over for a Lions team that won 14 combined games over the previous three seasons. He knew it was all about building a foundation. Creating an atmosphere that would equate to organization-wide success.
It didn’t start out swimmingly. There was no quick fix. Detroit lost 13 games in Campbell’s first season. It finished 25th in the NFL in scoring and yielded the second-most points in the NFL.
Working with general manager Brad Holmes, Campbell didn’t let that first season change his core belief in building up a long-downtrodden franchise. Even as some called for him to be one-and-done, the Lions’ brass committed to Campbell.
Fast forward a couple years, and Campbell has these Detroit Lions looking like legitimate Super Bowl contenders. He has them with a vibe of their own. What we saw in not-so-perfect outing on Sunday added another layer to this. That’s for sure.