Essay: In Like a Lion Out Like a ???

Sports journalist Jerry Green’s take on Coach Dan Campbell’s second season
Detroit Lions’ coach Dan Campbell embraces quarterback, Jared Goff. // Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Coach Dan Campbell’s one-year pass has expired. His warning to the rest of the NFL that the team is “going to bite a kneecap off” was clever and challenging. It achieved national publicity and recognition. But three victories plus a tie did not accomplish much to satisfy the hungry multitudes.

Still, Campbell did earn another season of favor with his attitude as a rookie head coach. He impressed with the combative nature of his athletes.

Since the April 2022 NFL draft, when the Lions fortified defense and offense with vaunted Aidan Hutchinson and mercurial Jameson Williams, there has been unstinting praise for the selections. A variety of league handicappers lauded the Lions as “vastly improved,” “sleepers,” and “interesting” with the addition of their two first-round picks.

In most other years, the Lions’ draft performances were condemned as dubious. And that mediocrity was reflected in the results. Brad Holmes — without the grooming from Bill Belichick — has managed two superior drafts in succession as general manager. He has earnestly been trying to build the Lions from an abyss.

That abyss is now 65 years old.

It was at least 40 years ago that this cynic doomed the Lions to a 2-12 season on a broadcast on WJR. I had not yet left the studio when the telephone rang, and I was chastened by a critic.

“At least let us start 0 and 0,” said William Clay Ford, the club owner, with a justified shred of advice.

Nonetheless, predictions are an annual folly. Hardened by negativity since 1957, I step forward this year with caution. I figure the Lions must be improved. But I cannot ride the glory bandwagon, and I am a professional journalist who lacks a fan’s optimism.

I figure the Lions remain a work in progress.

The legitimate target for this season ought to be a record of 8-9, maybe 9-8. They could, with a decent offense, provide a ripple of hope for the postseason.

Hutchinson proved that he is championship quality as last season’s leader at the University of Michigan. The Lions have acquired an accomplished pass rusher who should have immediate impact as a pro on a needy defense.

“You can never tell for sure,” Campbell told sportswriters while raving about Hutchinson in the preseason. “His DNA says that he’s going to do everything he can to be successful, and he’s got enough ability and enough strength … to go out there and help us win some games.”

Yet the road from Michigan Stadium to Ford Field is crammed with speed bumps.

The offense offers a secure blocking line and a bolstered receiving corps built up by Holmes’ drafting of Williams and free agent signing of wide receiver D.J. Chark. A year ago, the receiving department was threadbare compared with playoff teams’. Unsung rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown became a star and was, in my opinion, the Lions’ best story of the season. Professional football is a team game — a team game that focuses on individuals. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and, oops, Matthew Stafford.

The precious quarterbacks!

Jared Goff will eternally be known in Detroit as the quarterback who succeeded Stafford, who became the Super Bowl LVI champion in his first season of escape from captivity.

Goff enters the 2022 season with a bull’s-eye on his back.

And to me, the Lions’ success or failure this season, when victories and defeats are added to 0-0, hinges clearly on Goff.

This story is from the September 2022 issue of Hour Detroit magazine.