Lions Have New Standard after Successful Season
The ending of the Detroit Lions’ season was one filled with optimism and hope for the future.
After starting the season 1-6, head coach Dan Campbell and company found their stride. The result was eight wins in the last 10 games, pushing the organization to its first winning season since 2017.
Though the team came up just short of a playoff berth, there is a renewed vision that they could be contending within the NFC North for years to come. The team has a solid core of young players in place, and quarterback Jared Goff saw an uptick in performance that was the motor of the team’s revival.
The signal-caller went the final nine games of the season without throwing an interception, and finished with 4,438 passing yards.
As the team reflected Monday during its end-of-season interviews, it was clear that there are high expectations for the 2023 season.
“Our standards remain the same, and our expectations continue to rise,” Goff said. “But, our standards can go up, too, you know? We know we hold each other accountable, and what we’re expecting of each other and what OTA’s, what we want that to look like, and training camp. It’s gonna be much more intentional, at least from the players’ aspect. I know the coaches are gonna be always intentional, but we’re going to know what we have and what we have the potential to do. And, it’s a much different feeling than trying to figure that out.”
A key part of the team’s success this season was the emergence of players from the last two draft classes. Several who were selected by general manager Brad Holmes during his first two campaigns flashed star potential.
Among those was Amon-Ra St. Brown, who eclipsed 100 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his young career. Fellow 2021 NFL Draft pick Penei Sewell graded out as one of the best tackles in football for his performance.
The abilities shown by recent draftees has elevated the confidence in Holmes, who has put together two straight solid classes.
“After this season alone, bringing in (Aidan) Hutchinson, (James) Houston, Kerby (Joseph), I knew the type of people he’s gonna bring in are just like us,” Sewell said. “And, the right type of man that we could come in and whatever adversity we go through, we’re gonna get over it.”
The 2022 class featured several players that jumped into action. Aidan Hutchinson and Malcolm Rodriguez were day one starters, while James Mitchell, Kerby Joseph, Josh Paschal and James Houston all saw roles increase as the season went on.
These rookies put forth encouraging performances in 2022, setting high bars for their futures. Houston stood out, notching eight sacks in seven games.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Houston said. “My goal was 10 this year, and I got eight. So, just got to continue to work to get to that number and beyond that number. Just continue to improve my role in the defense, and build confidence in myself and the defense.”
‘It’s pretty special’
The Lions’ final win — a 20-16 triumph over the NFC North rival Green Bay Packers — was a statement in front of a national audience. The team appears to have won over its fanbase, as historic Lambeau Field was covered in Lions’ colors by the end of the night.
“I think this last game, for sure, had a lot to do with respect that, as players, we wanted, I know the coaches wanted,” St. Brown said. “I think Detroit fans, after seeing what we’ve done as a whole, after seeing what we’ve done all year. But, we definitely, that game at Lambeau, everyone was watching. I feel like for us as players, it was a game for us to show the world who we’ve been all year, what we’ve been doing. And, I think we displayed that.”
Lions fans have longed for success. Campbell’s team, and the groove it found, revitalized the image of the organization heading into next season.
“Man, I’m happy for (the fans),” Sewell said. “I just got here, so I don’t really know but I know they’ve been, during that slump, all those years. To see them really come out to Green Bay like that, next year, I’ve got to go crazier. Nothing but love from all of them. I appreciate everyone that comes out.”
Goff was jubilant after the game, sprinting down the sideline to slap hands with Lions fans reaching over the barriers in the stands. He praised the commitment shown to the team through its highs and lows.
The crowd’s reaction to the win sparked thoughts of what Ford Field could look like, should the Lions earn the right to host a playoff game in the future.
“I love our fans, and I think last night was a really good example of that,” Goff said. “Seeing them after the game and being able to give them some love, all of us were. It’s pretty special. We weren’t playing for a playoff spot, and they were there all the way through and then stayed after the game, cheering us on. I think this year, in particular, our home games and then that one to cap it off, you get a great glimpse of what this place can truly be like when we’re winning consistently, as we expect to in the future.”
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.