MINNEAPOLIS — Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell entered the locker room after Sunday’s 28-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings and told his team its latest gut-wrenching defeat was on him.
One of the most aggressive coaches in the NFL when it comes to in-game decision making, Campbell made a slew of choices Sunday that had his team in position to win its first road game since late in the 2020 season.
The Lions led the Vikings by 10 points, on the road, with 8 minutes to play, and then Campbell cowered late when he passed on a fourth-and-4 attempt with 1:14 left in lieu of a 54-yard field goal attempt .
Austin Seibert missed the kick wide right, his second long miss of the game, and the Vikings scored the winning touchdown three plays later on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to KJ Osborn.
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“I frickin’ regret my decision there at the end,” Campbell told reporters after the game. “I should have gone for it on fourth down and I told the team that. I should have gone for it.”
The Lions, who set an NFL record for most fourth-down attempts last season, converted 4 of 6 fourth-down attempts Sunday after Seibert clanked a 48-yard field goal off the right upright on the game’s opening possession.
The Lions converted four of five fourth-down attempts over the next 28 minutes, passing up five long field goal attempts in the process. They gained 68 yards on those five plays, an average of 13.6 yards per play, and their four conversions led to two touchdowns and a field goal.
But leading 24-14 early in the fourth quarter, Campbell’s aggressive decision making began to go awry, and that made him re-think his approach late in the game.
Jared Goff threw incomplete deep on third-and-1 with just under 11 minutes to play at the Lions’ 27-yard line. The Vikings scored a touchdown on a 6-yard Alexander Mattison run to cut their deficit to 24-21 on the ensuing possession, and Jamaal Williams was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 on the Lions’ next drive, setting up a dramatic final 3 minutes.
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The Lions had a chance to run out the clock after Cousins threw incomplete on fourth-and-7 just before the two-minute warning, but managed only one first down before facing a fourth-and-4 with 1:14 on the clock.
Campbell called a timeout to mull his decision — he said he was considering three scenarios on the sideline, including a pooch punt to pin the Vikings deep — before sending Seibert and his field goal unit on for a kick.
When Seibert missed, the Vikings took over at the 44-yard line. They were in field goal range two plays later.
“I regret that decision, 100 percent. I really do,” Campbell said. “I hate it and I feel like I cost our team. I really do, man.”
According to ESPN, the Lions’ had a 90% win probability had they decided to punt on fourth down, an 89.6% win probability had they run an offensive play, and an 85.4% win probability with a field goal try.
Several Lions said after they were surprised Campbell chose the field goal.
“He ultimately has the final say and I’m not going to question him, but I wish I would have gone over there and demanded to stay on the field and I guarantee he would have let us,” Goff said. “We all have our regrets in some ways, shape or form, but ultimately we had two chances as an offense to finish that game. Really had a chance on the longer drive, fourth-and-1, we didn’t convert, and then had a chance following that when they didn’t convert on fourth down. Two chances, get a few first downs and the game’s over, and just gave them too many chances.”
The Lions converted their first fourth down midway through the first quarter when Goff completed a 30-yard pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown on fourth-and-5 from the Minnesota 32. Williams scored his first of two rushing touchdowns one play later.
Williams ran for 5 yards on fourth-and-1 and Goff found Josh Reynolds for a 17-yard gain on another fourth-and-1 on the Lions’ next possession, when they took a 14-0 lead on a 5-yard touchdown pass to TJ Hockenson.
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And after failing to pick up a fourth-and-1 late in the second quarter, Goff threw a 16-yard pass to Reynolds on fourth-and-2 just after halftime to set up a 40-yard Seibert field goal that gave the Lions a 24-14 lead.
Goff finished 25 of 41 passing for 277 yards for the Lions, with one touchdown and a late desperation interception with 9 seconds to play. Williams, playing significant minutes as D’Andre Swift was limited by ankle and shoulder injuries, had a game-high 20 carries for 87 yards.
Cousins was 24 of 41 passing for 260 yards and two touchdowns for the Vikings (2-1). His touchdown pass to Osborn came on a miscommunication in the Lions secondary, after the Lions lost safety Tracy Walker to a potential Achilles tendon injury early in the game.
“(Campbell) did come in and say that one’s on me, but that’s on us,” Lions left tackle Taylor Decker said. “We always want to go for it on fourth down. We’re going to go for it on fourth down a lot, cause I know the coaches believe in us. I know there is some like analytics to football, but I also know Dan is very apt to just be like, ‘I believe in our guys, let’s make a play.'” If we kick a field goal and it works, great. It just didn’t work out in our favor. But we do know Coach believes in us and we know our coaches believe in us to be able to get the job done, and we just didn’t make enough plays to get the job done to seal it at the end. Like I said, we get one first down, the game’s over.”
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.