FIRST DOWN: STRONG FINISH
Jared Goff stood behind the podium after every loss the first couple weeks of the season and took the brunt of the criticism for the Lions' rough start. That's part of the job description of being a quarterback in the NFL. Goff never made excuses, always saying he and the team had to play better and would play better.
Coming out of the bye Week 9 with the Lions still winless, head coach Dan Campbell took over play calling from offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. Tight ends coach Ben Johnson became the passing game coordinator, and wide receivers like Amon-Ra St. Brown and Josh Reynolds really started to pick up their game.
It led to a tale of two seasons for Goff, as he played some pretty darn good football the second half of the season.
"Look, there's a number of reasons why we weren't moving the football and things weren't happening and it's really all encompassing," Campbell said of Goff's troubles and the offense's inconsistencies the first half of the year. "And he took a lot of flak for it. I'll be honest with you, that wasn't totally on him, it wasn't.
"But what I respect about him is the fact that he hung in there and he was resilient, but yet accountable to his own performance. But collectively, we knew that we all had to get better. He never wavered. He was there every day, he was ready to go, he was upbeat. He wanted to be better and in turn has made us all better. He's playing good. He's really played pretty good down the stretch. It's been good to see."
Since the bye, Goff completed 68 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions for a 101.8 passer rating. He led the Lions to three straight home wins to end the year, completing 70 percent of his passes in wins over Minnesota, Arizona and Green Bay, with eight touchdowns and two picks for a 111.6 rating.
He was 21-of-30 passing for 238 yards with two touchdowns and a 115.7 rating in the 37-30 win over Green Bay Sunday.
"The way we practiced, a little bit of more urgency in some things in the pass game. I thought Ben Johnson and some of the stuff that he was able to put in place and some of the stuff that he was able to coach up was really good," Goff said of the difference the second half of the year on offense.
"And then, Dan obviously calling the plays and having his influence on it as well was helpful."
The Lions have to feel good about how Goff, 27, finished off the season and the confidence he has heading into the offseason.
SECOND DOWN: TRICK PLAYS
The Lions had a mini throwing competition this week amongst their receiver corps to see who could throw the ball the best. They were drawing up a trick play where a receiver had to throw a pass. It didn't start well, according to Campbell.
"The first time we did it I'm not even going to tell you who was throwing, but it was like, 'Alright, here we go!' and we repped it," Campbell said. "We got verification that the guy could throw and we went out there and it was a duck. It went about 10 yards. And so it was like, 'OK, no.' I said, 'Who's next?' And Tom Kennedy jumped right in there. And we gave it to him, and it was, 'OK, he can throw.' So he did a great job. Worked out good."
Kennedy emerged as the best option, and he earned himself a chance to make the biggest play of his NFL career to this point Sunday against the Packers. The Lions dialed up a counter reverse pass with St. Brown taking a handoff on a counter and pitching back to Kennedy, who then threw a perfect pass to wide receiver Kalif Raymond for a 75-yard touchdown down the right sideline.
That play was put on the play sheet this week in the hopes Green Bay would watch some of the counter runs the Lions ran with St. Brown a couple weeks prior in Atlanta and be fooled into thinking it was a St. Brown run again.
St. Brown said the Packers were calling out his number for a run play when he lined up, and he knew then they had them on the play.
Later in the second half the Lions ran another trick play on a handoff to running back D'Andre Swift running right, he pitched it back to St. Brown on a reverse left, who then pitched it back to Goff. Goff found rookie tight end Brock Wright streaking down the right sideline wide open for a 36-yard score.
"We worked them, we repped them. We made sure that we had a good grasp and a good handle on them to where we felt good and I felt good about calling them," Campbell said. "And I tell you what, they did, they executed well. They did it exactly the way that you want it done.
"And as a matter of fact, they were better than practice. I mean, some of them you're like, 'Well the corner's just standing there looking at it.' So it worked out good. I told our guys all week, I said, 'We're going to be aggressive and we're calling this stuff.' And I felt good about calling it. Those guys did the rest."
Campbell said as long as these trick plays continue to work, they'll continue to develop them and call them in games.
THIRD DOWN: SEWELL'S SEASON
Rookie right tackle Penei Sewell tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week, and though he was taken off the Reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday, he was then added to the injury report with a thumb injury and illness. He was inactive Sunday in the regular-season finale.
That designation ended Sewell's rookie season one game short, but what a rookie season it was.
Sewell was taken No. 7 overall in last year's NFL Draft as GM Brad Holmes' first pick in his rebuilding efforts in Detroit. He played right tackle all offseason and preseason, but had to transition to left tackle the first half of the season because of the finger injury that put Taylor Decker on IR. When Decker returned after an eight-game absence, Sewell seamlessly transitioned back to right tackle, where he was dominant the second half of the season. That's no easy task for any player, especially a rookie.
Sewell was ranked as a top 25 tackle in the NFL by Pro Football Focus ahead of Sunday's slate of games, and was graded top 10 as a run blocker. He had a rough two-game stretch Weeks 4-5 where he allowed four sacks, but he allowed just one sack the whole rest of the season.
"The last half of the season, he's really grown and you feel like – there were about three or four different sets in there (last week in Seattle) where you watch him on Carlos Dunlap, who's still a good rusher and he's long, Sewell's doing a few things that you see out of a pretty crafty, wily, eight-year vet that's a pretty good athlete," Campbell said this week.
"Like, you're watching him do some things where he's trapping hands and he's just – he's learning at an exponential rate and the fact that he's such a dang good athlete. I just bring it back up again, he's a great athlete and he's 330-something pounds. Those guys, they don't just fall off trees. But, I think that's where he really has improved and that's the hardest part of his job, of that job, playing tackle. And so, that's encouraging."
View photos from Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers Week 18 game at Ford Field on Sunday, Jan. 9 in Detroit, MI.
FOURTH DOWN: COMPLEMENTARY FOOTBALL
The Lions are confident they'll turn this thing around under Holmes and Campbell, and the hope is that happens sooner rather than later. Campbell said when it happens, we'll see them playing the kind of complementary football we saw late in Sunday's win more consistently.
The offense driving the ball and scoring points when they need to. The defense coming up with turnovers and huge stops when they need to late. Special teams doing their thing, like they've done all year.
Good teams play complementary football more often than not, and that's what Campbell loved the most about Sunday's win.
"I think that is the most important thing as a team that you can do," he said. "It really doesn't matter that it was the score that it was, 37-30. It was the fact that man, when our team needed it, our defense got a stop, got a turnover. And offensively, when our defense needed some help, we found a way to score some points.
"And so I think that's what a good team is. It could be the same thing – it's 12-10. But that's what I thought was very evident and what made me really proud about this game. We did that. It was a great team effort."
Campbell, and all the players that spoke after the game, said Sunday was the kind of win they'll use as a springboard into what they hope is a big offseason and a chance to take some big steps forward as a franchise.