If these are really 'the new Lions,' then 'the gut punches will stop'


It must have been a culture shock for Jamaal Williams, going from the Packers to the Lions, from the top of the NFC North to the bottom, from winning on Sundays to discovering heartbreaking ways to lose. For the first time in his short tenure in Detroit, Williams wasn't so quick to smile after a crushing loss to the Ravens. He spoke quietly and said he was "trying not to cuss."

"I feel like when you come to a team like this where they already (talk about), 'cursed,' whatever, it depends on how your mental is if you're going to (believe) what everyone else is saying about a team that you just got to," Williams said.

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The Packers don't lose on record-breaking field goals that bounce off the cross bar and explode through the uprights. The Packers don't wonder afterward if the opponent should have been called for delay of game on the play prior to the game-winning kick, because the call gets made. Of course, the Packers don't give up fourth and 19 with 26 seconds to play to invite another impossible defeat. This was Williams' third loss in Detroit, but his baptism as a Lion.

"Really, sometimes fate is against us," he said. "Sometimes it tries to stop us."

It must have been culture shock for Jared Goff, going from the Rams to the Lions, from the Super Bowl three years ago to a team that's never sniffed one, from the winning quarterback to the quarterback who's 0-3. Goff has defied the naysayers from the moment he arrived this offseason, vowing to "put us over the top" as if the Lions were close, as if they could see the summit right there in the distance. Sunday widened his view and brought the climb into focus.

"About as big of a gut punch as I’ve ever been a part of," Goff said. "I’ll start off by saying that this team, this city has been through a lot, obviously, in recent years and has had these gut punches. For me personally, it’s the hardest one I’ve been a part of."

It's not a culture shock for Dan Campbell, because he's played here before. He was part of the team that went 0-16. He understands the depths to which the Lions can sink, like divers on uncharted floors of the ocean. And yet Campbell nearly crumpled over on the sideline when Justin Tucker's 66-yard field goal sunk this team again, just like Tucker's 61-yarder in 2013. Campbell spent the past five seasons winning games with the Saints, whose legendary kicker Tom Dempsey sunk the Lions with a 63-yarder in 1970.

"I don’t even know how to describe it," Campbell said.

But Campbell, Goff and Williams aren't here to commiserate, which is to give misery company. They're here to shed the Lions' burdens, a mission as valiant and perhaps vain as any in football. Goff made another vow Sunday, that "the gut punches will stop." He said this loss was the first glimpse of proof, because he could feel the mood shifting as the Lions rallied in the fourth quarter. On Detroit's sideline, Goff said "there was no doubt" that "we are going to win this game."

"And it was our day until that last second," he said. "You can say if and when to everything, but if that field goal is a foot shorter, we’re saying, ‘Hell yeah. Here we go. Turn it around.’ All I’m saying is, that optimistic mindset, that belief in each other, that belief that this is our day, that we’re going to win, that, ‘Hey man, this isn’t the same old thing every game,’ that belief will remain and needs to remain.”

Williams knows what was being said about the Lions before Sunday's game. It's the same thing that's said about them before most games. The Ravens were heavy favorites, the Lions were 0-2, and "even when the game doesn’t start yet, they’re already thinking the Lions are going to lose," Williams said.

Asked if that negativity creeps into the team's psyche, it felt like Williams was shocked back to life.

"Hell no," he said. "That's why I'm saying, if people think that, those are the people we don't have around right now. That's what makes us who we are, the new Lions. Today wasn't enough, but we come back next week and go get that dub. It's just the mindset of never quitting."

As the story goes, the Same Old Lions would have laid down against the Ravens. They would have fallen limp after falling behind 13-0 in the third quarter. These are the 'new Lions,' according to Williams, because they stood up to one of the toughest teams in football and eventually took the lead. On both sides of the ball, Detroit seized control of the game in the second half. To Williams, it was proof that "we can play with anybody."

"And we can come out and win," he said. "It’s up to us to keep playing and keep fighting and not worry about what’s happening right now.”

It's the past these Lions are trying to ditch. What's happening right now might actually bode well for the future. The Lions are 0-3, but the team that lost on Sunday was noticeably stiffer than the one that bent and broke against the Packers and the one that snapped in the first half against the 49ers.

Yes, the Ravens were ravaged by injuries. But so were the Lions, who played three rookies in the secondary and -- with the help of Hollywood Brown's slippery fingers -- held Lamar Jackson to one of the lowest completion rates of his career. They also sacked him four times, tied for the second most in his career, while playing three rookies in their front seven. Against one of the best quarterbacks in football, Detroit's defense found a pulse.

"I felt like we were going to find out a lot about our guys coming out of this because Baltimore is a gritty, tough team year in, year out," Campbell said. "If you’re not prepared to face them, they’ll bully you and beat you up. I thought we went in there and competed, I did. I thought we gave them all they could handle. But they walked away the winner here, so we didn’t do enough.”

They did just about all they could. They forced the greatest kicker in NFL history to hit the greatest kick of his career. They also committed some fatally familiar errors down the stretch, starting with Campbell. He played conservatively on the final drive on offense, settling for a field goal. He played conservatively on one of the final plays on defense, just as the Lions were about to land the knockout blow. All of it enabled Tucker's kick to the gut.

Still, "I love the grit of this freaking team," Campbell said.

Across the way, John Harbaugh watched his team get a dose of its own. The Lions punished the Ravens in the second half, swarming Jackson and breaking Baltimore's defense with one long scoring drive after another. D'Andre Swift was the best player on the field, more dynamic with each touch. Goff was 14-15 for 160 yards. Ford Field was the loudest it's been since the fourth game of Matt Patricia's second season.

"I want to salute the Lions on the football game they played," Harbaugh said. "They played a winning football game, they did. They played a really great football game in the second half. They did what they needed to do. I’m very impressed with what Coach Campbell is doing with that football team."

The fourth game of Patricia's second season was a heartbreaking loss to the Chiefs. Afterward, Andy Reid played the part of Harbaugh. He said the Lions were on the right track with the right coach, and this meant something coming from a winner. The Lions lost 11 of their next 12 games and Patricia was gone the following season. Campbell has more time, thanks to the wreck he inherited. But words are hollow until losses become wins. Sunday was only a start if next Sunday is better. These are only the new Lions if they banish the same old results.

"We were a team that was 0-2 and the belief that we were going to win that game was there the entire game," Goff said. "And that’s something that feels different around here. I hope it remains, I know it will remain and it’s something that we’ll be intentional about. I know the fans have been through it and I know it’s the empty promises, I get it, I get it. But that belief in ourselves will remain."

Featured Image Photo Credit: © Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC