The closest the Detroit Lions have ever come to playing at the Super Bowl was in 1991 when they knocked out the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round.
Their luck ran out when they lost the NFC Championship to the Washington Redskins, and since then, things haven’t been smooth sailing. This season though, Dan Campbell has put some serious work into his team, reminding them that they need to go back to basics and just play ruthless and aggressive football.
The Lions Led the 49ers in Total Yards at Half-time
The Lions got the ball after the 49ers deferred the coin toss. They went 71 yards in just four plays. Early on, the chance of them winning the game was high, especially with the 49ers’ poor reading of the Lion’s running routes. It didn’t help with the fact that the 49ers team were plagued with several injuries, which has influenced the latest odds on the Super Bowl. Current odds for them to win stand at 4/5, with the Kansas City Chiefs at 11/10.
This ruthless aggression with the ball is exactly what Campbell wants from his team. The new-found confidence resulted in more fans attending the game too, with The Lions having plenty of people cheering them on. Almost 25% of ticket sales went to Lion fans. The typical visitor amount usually stands at well under 10%. Last year, the number was 3%.
This support paid off, as The Lions went on to lead in total yards gained at half-time. The stats show that they had 280 yards to 131, with 18 first downs. At the time, the 49ers only had eight. Their running game highlighted Campbell’s aggressive playing style, as they managed 148 yards with just 21 carries. With three rushing touchdowns, it was all about the running game.
Josh Reynolds Fumbled on Fourth Down
The Lions were comfortably ahead, leading 24-10 and looked to answer the 49ers field goal to begin the second half. The drive came to a halt when Josh Reynolds couldn’t convert on sticks at fourth-and-2. This led to a brutal turnover at the San Francisco 28-yard line. Dan Campbell, knowing that his ruthless aggression had paid off so far, decided to trust in his offence. Jared Goff and Reynolds couldn’t make it work, and this caused a shift in momentum that would go on to influence the rest of the game. According to Goff, there was a miscommunication on the handoff.
Campbell knows the brutality of making big calls that don’t pay off, all too well. During their game against the Cowboys, the coach went for it on fourth and refused an extra point when it could have tied the score. An infamous penalty ended up ruining the two-point conversion and resulted in a loss.
Ultimately, it was a loss in momentum that cost the Lions their ticket to the Super Bowl. Although the loss was gutting for the team, the sheer aggression they played with, and the fact that they showed up in clutch moments helped to give the team confidence. This might not be the last time we see The Lions in an NFC Championship game, and if anything, this loss has sparked a fire that will go on to fuel them for seasons to come.
They’ve had a taste of what they are capable of if they apply themselves and take charge of the situation, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them headline the Super Bowl in 2025. Time will tell.