DETROIT (AP) — Dan Campbell wasn’t nearly as emotional Monday afternoon as he had been after his Detroit Lions lost 19-17 to the Minnesota Vikings on another last-second field goal.
He still wasn’t happy.
The Lions coach choked up repeatedly during his postgame news conference Sunday, moments after the Lions had become the first team in NFL history to lose two games on last-play field goals of 50 yards or more in the same season. Justin Tucker hit a league-record 66-yarder for the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 26 — a game that also finished 19-17 — before Greg Joseph’s 54-yarder on Sunday.
“That showed that he cares — this means something to him,” Lions running back D’Andre Swift said Monday. “He’s a real high-energy coach that is passionate about wanting to win. He expressed that in that interview and now we’ve got to win some games.”
As they did against the Ravens, the Lions took a late lead — Swift’s touchdown and a 2-point conversion made it 17-16 with 37 seconds to play — but Kirk Cousins completed three passes for 46 yards to set up the winning kick.
“I thought that was our best defensive game of the season, but the last drive certainly hurt us,” Campbell said. “When your defense is playing that well, you have to seal the deal. We’ll learn from that.”
Detroit’s pass defense was competitive for the first time this season. After allowing 10.6 yards per attempt in the first four games of the season, the Lions held Cousins to 8.1, including 7.4 before the final three completions.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
After five games, the Lions still haven’t found any kind of vertical passing game. Jared Goff threw for 203 yards — a season-low 5.9 yards per attempt — but Detroit’s receivers picked up 146 of those yards after the catch. Goff completed 21 passes for 57 downfield yards, an average of 2.7 yards per completion.
“We’ve got to do a better job of pushing the ball down the field,” Campbell said. “If you look at explosive plays, they had seven and we had five; four passes and one run. Three of those came because of running after the catch, and that’s a hard way to live.
“We can’t ask our guys to catch the ball on an 8-yard route every time and bust it.”
A big part of Detroit’s improved pass defense was due to coverage from the linebackers, especially Jalen Reeves-Maybin. Maybin didn’t get lost in coverage, had five tackles, and ripped the ball away from Alexander Mattison on the first play after the two-minute warning. Swift scored three plays later and the 2-point conversion gave the Lions the lead.
“I’ve been watching a lot of guys around the league who are always getting to the ball and making big plays,” Reeves-Maybin said. “That’s a thing I try to do — try to create a turning point.”
The Lions are 0-5 and Goff has turned over the ball seven times while producing seven touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Rams are 4-1 with Matthew Stafford throwing 12 touchdown passes against three interceptions. While the comparison isn’t fair in a lot of ways, it is hard to avoid after they were traded for each other.
WR Quintez Cephus, who leads the team at 13.6 yards per touch and is the only wide receiver averaging 40 yards per game, is expected to miss a significant amount of time after breaking his collarbone.
“This is going to be weeks and weeks if we even get him back this season,” Campbell said.
OT Taylor Decker is eligible to return from injured reserve, and Campbell said he will probably rejoin the starting offense at his usual position of left tackle, with rookie Penei Sewell moving back to the right side.
19-17 — Not only have the Lions lost two games by that score in the last three weeks — both on long field goals at the end of regulation — it was also the score on Nov. 8, 1970, when Tom Dempsey kicked a then-NFL record 63-yard field goal to beat the Lions in New Orleans.
The Lions will have to improve on both sides of the ball to beat Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon and the seventh-rated defense in the league. Getting Decker back would help, but they just don’t have enough playmakers.