Gamblin' Dan Campbell played it safe and the Detroit Lions got burned | Opinion

MINNEAPOLIS — Can you imagine Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell in Las Vegas?

Gambling all night, putting his paycheck on the line, taking calculated gambles.

Would he play poker? Nah. He wears his heart on his sleeve too much. I can’t imagine him being very good at bluffing. He is who he is — the gambling man.

He’s gotta be a blackjack guy — “Hit me!”

Which is how he coached on Sunday afternoon against the Minnesota Vikings.

“Hit me!” — going for it on fourth down six freakin’ times!

Which is the only reason why the Lions had a chance to win this game.

“Hit me again!” — arghgh, dang-nab-it-all. Sometimes, it backfired spectacularly.

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Lions head coach Dan Campbell directs his team during the first half against the Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Minneapolis.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell directs his team during the first half against the Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Minneapolis.

Then, something strange happened. Gamblin’ Dan got conservative at the most curious time.

His final fourth-down gamble didn’t happen, as the Vikings scored the final 14 points in a 28-24 win.

Instead of going for it on fourth down to secure the win with one play, or even punting, Campbell went for the field goal and Austin Seibert missed from 54 yards out with 1:10 left, giving the Vikings tremendous field position.

Yes, you can start second-guessing. Personally, I would have gone for that fourth down — a six-point lead didn’t seem safe, considering the Lions couldn’t stop the Vikings.

Of course, the Vikings scored a TD.

Of course.

The Lions needed to take risks

Gamblin’ Dan is fun and nerve-wracking and exciting and infuriating and curious.

Some might have a problem with the aggressiveness.

But I love it, and what it represents.

The Vikings came into this game as 5½-point favorites — yes, the real gamblers in Vegas thought the Lions didn't have much of a chance.

To win, the Lions had to nibble on the edges. They had to take several risks.

The only reason the Lions had a 14-0 lead in the first quarter was because they converted three fourth downs midway through the first half.

It all started off so innocently enough.

In the first quarter, Campbell went for it on fourth-and-5 from the Vikings' 32.

Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, top, leaps over Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson while picking up a first down at the 2-yard line in the first quarter on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Minneapolis.
Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, top, leaps over Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson while picking up a first down at the 2-yard line in the first quarter on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Minneapolis.

It would have been a 51-yard field goal.

But maybe it wasn't a risky move. Not when you have Amon-Ra St. Brown, cutting under a defense, able to catch a ball and turn it into pure magic.

St. Brown grabbed the ball, slicing through the Vikings' defense and nearly scored.

No worries.

On the next play, Jamaal Williams plunged into the end zone.

So he gambled three points and ended up with seven.

It showed a couple things:

One: He expected the Vikings to score.

Two: It was worth it because he stole four points.

On the Lions' next possession, Campbell went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Vikings' 45.

Everybody was on their feet. The Vikings were waving their arms and the in-stadium noise meter hit 117 decibels.

But Williams shut them up.

Penei Sewell collapsed the right side of the line and St. Brown cleaned it up.

Williams popped up with a first down, pumping his arms.

Three plays later, the Lions scored on a Goff touchdown pass.

Another risk, another reward.

Of course, every time you gamble, you can lose, of course.

And that happened soon enough.

Late in the second quarter, the Lions' luck ran out.

Campbell went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Lions' 48.

An incredibly risky moment.

Goff threw to T.J. Hockenson, but he couldn’t hold onto it.

That gave the Vikings a short field. And they marched down and scored a touchdown.

Which is how it works.

If you are going to gamble this much, sometimes you will lose. Sometimes you will get burned.

You have to live with the consequences.

But Campbell’s success rate made it worthwhile.

Not all of the decisions reached the same risk level.

Early in the third quarter, Campbell went for it on fourth-and-3 from the Vikings' 43.

Lions wide receiver Josh Reynolds runs from Vikings safety Josh Metellus during the second half on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Minneapolis.
Lions wide receiver Josh Reynolds runs from Vikings safety Josh Metellus during the second half on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Minneapolis.

That didn’t seem crazy. The Lions were in no-man’s land — too far to kick a field goal, too close to punt. Goff avoided the rush, bought extra time, rolled to his left and found Josh Reynolds for the first down. It proved to be a three-point payoff once Seibert nailed a 40-yard field goal for a 17-14 lead.

You know what the Lions can do to stop taking so many gambles?

They have to get better on third down. They were 1-for-7 on third-down tries in the first half, which is not how you win. That forces you to take incredible risks.

That forces Campbell to become the difference-maker.

Still, that’s what this team needs.

Because it has such a weak defense.

But there are still signs of improvement.

Once again, the Lions showed their depth.

Clearly, D’Andre Swift is still on a pitch count. He had just three carries in the first half.

Safety Tracy Walker went down with an ankle injury in the first quarter and the Lions put in JuJu Hughes.

Playing with this much risk doesn’t seem sustainable. And it’s not what you do when you have a dominant team.

But the Lions don’t have that yet.

So the risk is worth the reward right now.

My big takeaway: The only reason why the Vikings had a chance to win was because Campbell took so many risks.

But he went safe when it mattered the most.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Dan Campbell got burned for Detroit Lions, but he needed to risk it