Detroit Lions players defended head coach Dan Campbell after he faced a wave of criticism for his fourth-down decision-making in the team’s NFC Championship game loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
“Like I say every time I get asked that question, Dan is the best coach in the league,” Lions running back David Montgomery said when questioned about the decisions, via The Detroit News. “Every call that he makes, we trust and we’re behind him. Every call that he’s made is the right call.”
Montgomery’s comments come after Campbell made two controversial fourth-down decisions Sunday, forgoing two potentially makeable field goal opportunities in favor of going for it. The Lions would untimely lose the game 34-31 after failing to recover an onside kick in the game’s final minute.
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The first came about midway through the third quarter with the Lions holding a 24-10 lead, facing a fourth-and-2 from the 49ers 28-yard line. Instead of kicking a 35-yard field goal, Campbell opted to keep the offense on the field, resulting in a dropped pass by wide receiver Josh Reynolds that would have resulted in a first down.
The second came midway through the fourth quarter, with the Lions trailing by three. Faced with a fourth-and-3 from the 49ers 30-yard line, Campbell once again opted to keep the offense on the field, resulting in an incomplete pass and another turnover on downs.
Those moves were widely panned by critics, including Outkick’s Dan Dakich, who said Campbell made “career-changing” mistakes in the game.
“Victory favors the team making the fewest mistakes,” the “Don’t @ Me” host said of the decisions. “He made a career-changing mistake. And it was a simple move – kick the field goal, no momentum.”
Campbell also faced heat on social media, with NFL fans and commentators taking to X to voice disgust with the decisions.
“Dan Campbell is an absolute dumba–. They can’t blame anybody but him if they lose,” NESN’s Kendra Middleton wrote.
“I know Dan Campbell entire philosophy is to go for it but I mean… I’m stunned,” Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy said.
But Lions players had a different opinion, coming out in defense of their coach. One of those players was Reynolds, who dropped the pass on the first failed fourth-down attempt.
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“He called it because he fully expected us to get it. So did we, but, execution (failed),” Reynolds said, according to the Detroit News report. “You don’t wanna lose. And losing to go to the Super Bowl, I mean, it makes it that much worse.”
Another defender of Campbell was Lions quarterback Jared Goff, who said he “loved” the decisions made during the game.
“I loved them… we didn’t connect. I’ll throw a better ball next time.”
Campbell has become well-known in NFL circles for his aggressive nature during his tenure with the Lions, a trend that showed no signs of slowing down during the 2023 season. During the regular season, the Lions attempted to go for it on fourth down and less than three yards 21 times, converting 16 (76.1%) of those opportunities.
Meanwhile, the team also faced question marks at the kicker position all season, with current kicker Michael Badgley only being promoted from the team’s practice squad after week 14.
For his part, Campbell told reporters after the loss that he did not “regret” his fourth-down decision-making.
“I just felt really good about us converting,” Campbell said. “And getting our momentum and not letting them play long ball. They were bleeding the clock out – that’s what they do – and I wanted to get the upper hand back.”
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