Detroit Lions legend Lomas Brown is seeing the Motor City going through it after the team’s NFC Championship Game loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
“We’re trying to get settled in, it’s still kinda burning, man,” Brown said on OutKick’s “Don’t @ Me with Dan Dakich.” “This is the topic of every talk-radio show around here, every TV broadcast. It’s been all about the Lions, about some of the decisions that were made during that game. Who should we lay the blame on? It’s been a lot going on around here.”
Of course, the sting of not reaching the Super Bowl is palpable in any city that just falls short, but the Lions owned a 24-7 lead at halftime against the San Francisco 49ers on the road. However, an epic collapse came in the second half, and all the talk is about the decisions made by head coach Dan Campbell, which aided in that collapse.
Campbell’s decision to go for it on multiple fourth downs proved futile and eventually led to 49ers points in the second half. The first came after the 49ers led a field goal drive to begin the half, and Detroit was in position to kick their own on fourth-and-two in San Fran territory.
However, that was not Campbell at all during the regular season, and he was not going to stop being someone who trusts his players to keep the drive going. A throw from Jared Goff to Josh Reynolds, though, hit the ground and the ball was turned over on downs.
At that point, up 24-10, a field goal made it a three-score lead again if it was made. While many have applauded Campbell’s gambling nature on fourth-and-shorts, Brown believes it was not the right call with how the half was going, even if it was early.
“What I always say is you’ve got to judge the flow of the game,” Brown said. “You have to. You just can’t always go with the analytical way. You have to be able to have a gut feel. You have to see how the game’s been going, how your players have been playing. Some of the reaction you get from your players on the sideline, some of that reaction you get from your coaches on the sideline, some of the coaches up in the booth. Everything has to factor in when you make certain decisions. It just can’t be because the numbers say do this, you do it.
“For me, I know Dan has been that way the whole time. But, to me, I think you have to look at the situation a little bit more and be able to judge the flow, the ebbs and flows of the game and really make a decision off of that.”
There was another call with around seven-and-a-half minutes to play, when the Lions’ lead was no more after the 49ers made it 27-24. Another fourth-and-short saw Campbell trying to regain the lead instead of trusting his kicker, Michael Badgley, to tie it with a field goal.
Goff scrambled out to his right to gain more time to find an open receiver, but ultimately could not.
“I’m kicking it,” Brown told Dakich of that fourth-down call. “That’s why I got this guy on the team, my kicker. That’s why I have him there, for situations like this. Look, he kicked a 50-yarder at Ford Field. I know it’s different circumstances – we’re in a dome where weather isn’t a factor – but weather wasn’t a factor in San Francisco either. It really wasn’t.
“To me, man, I’m trying to stem that momentum a little bit. I would’ve taken the points.”
Despite all the criticism for his calls to go for it, Campbell did admit his attempt to run with David Montgomery on third-and-goal to bring the Lions within a field goal late in the game that forced him to burn a timeout because he could not get across the goal line should have been a pass play.
Nonetheless, the Lions could not convert on an onside kick, and the 49ers iced their come-from-behind win to head back to the Super Bowl, while Lions fans continue to feel the gut punch of coming so close.
The silver lining is the Lions’ trajectory for 2024 and beyond looks strong, as they have consistently gotten better by the year since Campbell took over in 2021. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is also staying on the coaching staff despite being a top head coach candidate.
It will take time before the sting of this loss wears out until it turns into fuel for revenge next season.