In his first key decision, Dan Campbell didn't flinch: go for it. The Lions were driving, the crowd was buzzing and the score would soon be climbing. There's nothing to be gained for Detroit by playing it safe, not right now, not with a roster full of youth. This team will only win by being bold, which is also how it can grow in defeat.
On fourth and 2 from San Francisco's 35 on Detroit's first drive of the game, Campbell kept his offense on the field. It was a show of faith in his players. It was also, if Campbell's being honest, an admission of their limitations. The Lions have a young, vulnerable defense that isn't ready to carry an offense kicking field goals.
"I knew that three wasn’t going to be good enough to beat this team," Campbell said.
So he gave his guys a shot, and he'll continue to give them more. He stuck with an offensive line he believes in and a running back he trusts. Jamaal Williams was stopped for a loss, the Lions turned it over on downs, and two drives later, on 4th and 1 from San Francisco's 17, Campbell went for it again. This time they got it.
"I don’t second guess those, I don’t," said Campbell. "I wanted to try to be aggressive, but smart at the same time."
The second gamble paid off when Jared Goff found T.J. Hockenson in the end zone a few plays later. Goff to Hockenson is the essence of Detroit's downfield passing attack, if we can even call it that. The tight end had more catches and more yards Sunday than the Lions' three most productive wide receivers combined. Turns out, this offense isn't built to carry a defense leaking touchdowns.
There was a game on Sunday until there wasn't, until there was again at the end. Between a competitive start and a frantic finish, the Lions were badly outplayed in a 41-33 loss to the 49ers. These are Campbell's Lions only in the way they prepare and the way they fight, and they fought in the season-opener when past teams would have folded.
"Our guys did play until the end," Campbell said. "They didn’t throw their palms up and start sulking. They just went back to work."
But there's so much more work to be done. The 49ers gashed Detroit's defense for more than 7.5 yards per carry in the first half, like last year never ended. They swallowed Goff and his check-down passes and then thanked him for a pick-six when he forced a throw to Hockenson. The Lions ran the ball well, but couldn't run it enough when they fell behind big. Goff wound up throwing 57 times, a threshold reached just three times by Matthew Stafford.
"We don’t get our first stop until the third quarter," said Campbell. "You’re trying to stay true to who you are offensively but now you get in