I just cannot believe that the Lions did not lose after what they pulled on fourth down with four minutes left in Sunday’s game against the Vikings. Somehow, Detroit had scratched and clawed its way into a 23-21 lead. But as they faced down fourth-and-1 on their own 28, head coach Dan Campbell made the stunning decision to go for it. Normally, I’d be in favor of such boldness, and the math was technically on Campbell’s side. But 10 games of watching Jared Goff struggle to perform the duties of a quarterback—or even just seeing the interception he had thrown on the previous drive—should have been enough to convince even the most hard-line analytics guy that perhaps this is not the time nor the place to put the game in his hands. Instead, the Lions did … this. I’d say it was this team finding a new way to lose yet again, but at this point I’ve lost track of all the ways they’ve done so already.
The Lions had played all right up to this point, making little plays here and there to just barely tip the game in their favor. They had sacked Kirk Cousins on a fourth down near the end of the first half and capitalized by sneaking in a field goal before the buzzer. They also had stopped the Vikings on two-point conversion attempts on each of Minnesota’s two touchdowns. But Goff’s fumble in the final minutes of the game put the Vikings in an easy position for a go-ahead score, which they achieved two minutes later with a Justin Jefferson catch from the three, before again failing to convert the two-point try.
This put the ball back in Goff’s hands for a two-minute drill, down 27-23, and not only was that scary because Goff’s arm simply does not seem to be built for anything except short passes, but also, each of the last two Lions drives had ended in turnovers. Did I mention that this team was 0-10-1, with a bunch of those losses (and the tie) coming from late-game failures and collapses? Yeah, I sure as heck would not have bet on them.
But Goff, through a series of 12 miniature passes, took what the defense was willing to give and maneuvered the Lions nine yards at a time all the way down to the Minnesota 11 with eight seconds remaining. Forcing Goff to make even an 11-yard throw felt like a stretch, and his first attempt was uncatchably incomplete, wobbling to the back of the end zone like a sliced-up shuttlecock. But that second attempt … oh my god that second attempt. Goff found Amon-Ra St. Brown in front of the Vikings secondary on the near edge of the end zone, and the Sun God hauled it in with no time left on the clock. Players, coaches, and fans proceeded to celebrate as though they’d just won the Super Bowl. (Not that any of us would know how that feels.)
I’ll admit that this doesn’t quite give me the euphoria that it would have if the win had come in Week 1, or Week 3, or Week 5, or even Thanksgiving. It’s hard for me to rationally make the case that 1-10-1 is all that much better than 0-11-1. But the boys look so happy! And the crowd sounds absolutely ecstatic. And perhaps, in a DOA season, that’s all one win needs to mean. At least now nobody can say that the 2021 Lions’ year was entirely miserable.