Inconsistent Calls by Campbell Contribute to Detroit’s Loss
The Detroit Lions, known for their aggressive approach on fourth down throughout the regular season, saw their strategy backfire in the NFC Championship Game. The Lions, who went for it on fourth down 34% of the time during the regular season, the highest rate of any team this century, according to ESPN, failed to secure their first Super Bowl berth in the history of the organization.
Despite a 17-point halftime lead, the Lions blew their advantage and ultimately lost the game. While the 2023 season was considered a massive success for the team, questions will continue to arise about the critical fourth-down decisions made by head coach Campbell.
Questionable Call: 4th-and-2 at San Francisco’s 28-yard line, 7:03 remaining 3rd quarter
One of the first questionable calls by Campbell occurred in 49ers territory midway through the third quarter. Instead of kicking a field goal to possibly regain a 17-point advantage, Campbell chose to go for it on fourth-and-2. The pass to Josh Reynolds was not completed, and San Francisco took possession, cutting the lead to seven.
This decision raised eyebrows, considering Campbell had previously chosen to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the San Francisco four-yard line before halftime, giving Detroit a three-possession lead heading into the break.
Inconsistent Decision-Making: 4th-and-3 at San Francisco’s 30-yard line, 7:32 remaining 4th quarter
After the 49ers tied the game late in the third quarter, the Lions had another crucial fourth-down situation. With the opportunity to tie the game with a field goal or go for it on fourth down to potentially regain the lead, Campbell opted for the latter. Unfortunately, Goff’s pass fell incomplete, and the Lions missed out on the chance to level the score.
Despite criticism, Campbell defended his decisions, acknowledging the scrutiny he would face. He believed that taking an aggressive approach was necessary given the Lions’ defensive struggles in the second half.
End-of-Game Blunder: 3rd-and-goal at San Francisco’s 1-yard line, 1:05 remaining 4th quarter
With the Lions trailing by ten points and needing two scores to win, they had a chance to score quickly and potentially recover an onside kick. However, a questionable decision to run the ball on third down resulted in a two-yard loss. Campbell then called a timeout, leaving the Lions with no other option but to attempt an onside kick, which has a low success rate.
Campbell admitted that his decision to run the ball was wrong and acknowledged that throwing it may have been the better choice. The timeout call after the loss further compounded the mistake, limiting the Lions’ options and making their comeback nearly impossible.
In Conclusion: Mixed Results in Fourth Down Gambles
While some of Campbell’s fourth-down decisions can be debated, his end-of-game blunder is inexcusable. The Lions’ collapse in the NFC Championship Game will be a tough pill to swallow for the team and their fans.
The “what if” game will undoubtedly haunt the Lions throughout the offseason, leaving them to ponder the missed opportunities and questionable calls that ultimately contributed to their defeat. Campbell’s aggressive approach, which had been successful throughout the season, proved to be their downfall on the biggest stage of the year.
As the Lions reflect on their season, they will undoubtedly learn from their mistakes and aim to improve their decision-making in crucial moments. Only time will tell if their fourth-down gambles will pay off in the future.