For one half of Sunday’s NFC Championship, the Detroit Lions looked primed for a historic run to Super Bowl LVIII, where they’d rematch the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. In the end, a litany of errors led to Detroit surrendering a 17-point lead and, ultimately, a ticket to Las Vegas. Every miscue — a fumble here, a dropped pass there — was critical as the San Francisco 49ers roared back to life, but perhaps nothing magnified the Lions’ deflating finish more than head coach Dan Campbell being … himself.
If nothing else, Campbell has been widely and frequently lauded for his almost-maniacal commitment to aggression atop the Lions’ staff, overseeing an NFL-leading 62 fourth-down conversions in his three seasons. It’s an approach that has both tangibly and intangibly affected an organization long mired in mediocrity or worse, in a two-year span raising the Lions from a three-win team to a 12-win NFC runner-up, and perhaps more remarkably, convincing his players, his fans and experts around the NFL that maybe, just maybe, these Lions aren’t just a quirky underdog story, but a contender here to stay.
Except, when push came to shove Sunday night, under the brightest lights Motor City’s football team has seen in more than three decades, Campbell’s trademark aggression may have finally crossed the line between admirable — even enviable — and delusional.
We refer, specifically, to his pair of failed fourth-down calls against San Francisco. The first occurred early in the third quarter; the Lions were up 14, facing a fourth-and-2 from the 49ers’ 28-yard line, and Josh Reynolds dropped a would-be first-down pass from Jared Goff, preceding a San Francisco touchdown drive that pulled the game within seven. Now, had Reynolds held onto the ball, Campbell may have been celebrated for sticking to his bold tendencies, but the fact he refused a seemingly safer chance to go up three scores loomed…