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FOUR DOWNS: Lions punch ticket to NFC Championship in Campbell's 3rd year


Hollywood couldn't have written the script any better for Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions Sunday afternoon.

Sunday was exactly three years to the day that Campbell was introduced as Detroit's head coach and gave a press conference that made its fair share of headlines, but also laid out what kind of culture and team he was going to build in Detroit.

Three years later Campbell was standing behind a podium after beating Tampa Bay, 31-23, in the Divisional Round of the playoffs to punch Detroit's ticket to the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers next week for the first time since 1991.

Campbell had a three-year plan and he's delivering on all the promises he made that in that first press conference.

Campbell was quick to give a lot of credit to all the people around him that helped turn this around in just three years, mentioning GM Brad Holmes and owner Sheila Hamp at the top of the list. Campbell's plan after taking the job was to change the culture and bring in tough, gritty players who would find ways to win. He thought in his third season he'd have a chance to be in this spot, and here he is.

"I envisioned that we would have a chance to compete with the big boys," he said. "And that's where we're at. All you have to do is get in and it's about placing yourself at the very best position where you can move."

The impressive part of Campbell's three-year plan is that the Lions did it the right way. They built through the draft and supplemented with key free agents that fit the culture. Campbell went from three wins to nine wins, to 12 wins with a division title and one win from the Super Bowl.

"Dan is the greatest leader I've been around and has cultivated this culture that we have and our belief in each other pretty significantly," Lions quarterback Jared Goff said. "Yeah, you think about the dark times early on in 2021, a lot of people calling for his head. A lot of people in this room calling for his head. It's pretty good to be able to sit up here playing in the NFC Championship. It feels good."


It will be the Lions at 49ers to decide who the NFC will send to Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas in three weeks.

The Lions beat Tampa Bay Sunday, 31-23, to earn a spot. The 49ers beat the Packers 24-21 in come-from-behind fashion to punch their ticket to Sunday's showdown at Levi's Stadium. It's the third straight NFC Championship Game for the 49ers.

The 49ers were the No. 1 seed in the NFC as NFC West champs with a 12-5 record. San Francisco (No. 1 seed) and Dallas (No. 2) won tiebreakers over the Lions to seed higher in the playoffs, despite Detroit's 12-5 regular season record and NFC North championship.

The 49ers have been the team to beat in the NFC all season. They have the No. 1 scoring offense and No. 3 scoring defense.

They had nine players – DL Nick Bosa, DL Javon Hargrave, FB Kyle Juszczyk, TE George Kittle, RB Christian McCaffrey, QB Brock Purdy, CB Charvarius Ward, LB Fred Warner and T Trent Williams – selected to the Pro Bowl.

It should be a great test for Detroit on both sides of the football, but they certainly aren't lacking any confidence.

"I don't want to say this arrogantly, but we expected to win the first game," Goff said. "We expected to win this game. Now we get to go to a game we expected to be in against a really good team at their place. We're going to come into it expecting to win."


It's been written and talked about all year long just how impactful Detroit's rookie class has been to the team's overall success this season, but Sunday's win over Tampa Bay was another great reminder.

Rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs paced the Lions' run game with 74 yards on nine carries (8.2 average), including a 31-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. He also caught four passes for 40 yards, including a 20-yard grab to set up Detroit's final touchdown in the final quarter.

Tight end Sam LaPorta established a new record for the most receptions in a postseason game by a rookie tight end with nine. LaPorta has set a lot of franchise and league records this season. He caught nine of his 11 targets in the game for 65 yards, which included a couple critical third-down grabs.

Rookie nickel cornerback Brian Branch led the Lions with nine tackles on the afternoon and added a sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit.

Holmes hit a home run in this year's NFL Draft.

View photos from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Detroit Lions Divisional Round game at Ford Field on Sunday, Jan. 21 in Detroit, MI.


It's been a tough year injury-wise for center Frank Ragnow. An inoperable toe injury has plagued him for three seasons but he continues to play through it. He's also battled a back injury and a knee injury this year that have made him a regular in Detroit's training room all season.

But through it all Ragnow continues to play and play at an elite level. He was the No. 1 graded center by Pro Football Focus this season and earned his second All-Pro and third Pro Bowl.

He had another injury scare in the second quarter Sunday when he was rolled up on from behind. He was slow to get up and trainers looked at him on the field for a bit and on the sideline throughout the contest. He never missed a snap.

"I'm not trying to sound like some brute tough guy here but it's just more frustrating than anything that again (dealing with something), you know?" Ragnow said after the game. "It was tough but it was worth it."

Ragnow didn't get into specifics in terms of what the injury was but said he doesn't expect it to keep him out of next week's NFC Championship Game. He said he takes a lot of pride in being out there with his teammates, living up to the contract extension he signed with the team a couple years back and living up to the two toughest people he's ever known – mom and dad.

"Frank is a stud," Campbell said of his veteran center. "That's what he does. He's willing to lay it on the line and he's not going to miss it. You may not be 100 percent but if you feel like you can produce you can win at 80 percent of yourself and that's what Frank does."

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