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The Detroit Lions 2023-24 Season: A Fan’s Retrospective

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The sting of playoff heartbreak never fully wears off. As the onside kick falls into the hands of a San Francisco player, blame for the epic collapse begins to be shuffled between parties. Dan Campbell refusing to kick field goals, offensive play calling straying too far from what was working, the defense being unable to contain Christian McCaffrey, receivers developing stone hands at precisely the wrong time, or just plain old bad luck.

Despite the disappointing ending, one thing remains: this is the best season of Detroit Lions football we’ve witnessed in 30 years. The team hasn’t come close to the NFC championship game since the Barry Sanders era. For many young fans, this is the most success Detroit has had in their entire lifetime. This team is built for success and the pieces are aligning to make sure this type of collapse never happens again.

If you told a Lions fan in 2020, at the end of the Matt Patricia era, that the team would be playing in the NFC championship in four years, they would probably look at you like you were crazy. The Lions ownership and front office have successfully rebuilt the team in three seasons, an unprecedented speed for a rebuild of this magnitude. Smart personnel moves and strong draft picks are the underpinnings of any successful team rebuild.

Brad Holmes, the general manager, has drafted well and made smart deals on the trade market. His first move was his biggest, sending Detroit legend Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for Jared Goff, as well as a few draft picks. Goff was intended to be a stopgap while Detroit searched for a permanent QB but the switch has revitalized his career and he has become a star player. Holmes also set the team up for success in the draft by sending tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for draft picks. Players that have been key to the Lions’ recent success, including Penei Sewell, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Aidan Hutchinson, Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta, among others, were acquired in the draft. Inadequate coaching was a major cause of Detroit’s struggles during the Patricia era, this issue was rectified with the hiring of Campbell. Campbell is a master motivator and his signature aggressive decision-making has given the Lions the opportunities they need to win big games. His tactics sometimes backfire but overall they have brought the team success.

To begin the regular season Detroit made NFL fans across the league take notice by defeating the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, on the road in overtime. Many big wins followed, including victories over the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both future playoff teams and convincing defeats of the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings. The year wasn’t without setbacks, however, as tough losses to the Seattle Seahawks in overtime, on the road against the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys game was especially frustrating as a fan because the game-winning two-point conversion was called back on a penalty, which turned out to be an error by the referees. Despite these setbacks, Detroit managed to win the NFC North for the first time since 1993, during the Sanders era.

To start their playoff journey, their first since 2016, Detroit hosted the Los Angeles Rams in the first-ever playoff game at Ford Field. The Rams, led by former Detroit quarterback Stafford, entered the game on a hot streak, having won seven of their last eight games. Detroit got off to a fast start and was able to build an early lead. Although the game came close in the second half the Lions held off the Rams for their first playoff victory since 1992. Detroit squared off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round, a rematch of a week six game the Lions won 20 to six. The teams traded blows for the first three quarters, with the game being tied at 17 heading into the fourth quarter. Detroit managed to build a 14-point lead, with touchdowns by Gibbs and St. Brown. Tampa Bay responded with a touchdown scored by Mike Evans, although they were unsuccessful on the two-point conversion attempt. Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes secured an interception with 1:35 left on the clock to seal the game and send Detroit to their first NFC championship game since 1991 and second in franchise history. The NFC championship itself was a colossal disappointment. After taking a 24 to seven lead into halftime Detroit gave up 27 consecutive points to bring the score to 24 to 34. Detroit’s Super Bowl dreams were crushed when they couldn’t recover the onside kick with 56 seconds left. This tough defeat brought an end to the greatest season of Lions football in the lifetimes of many young fans.

Although the ending of the season was disappointing, the Lions made major strides this year and are now firmly within the field of playoff contenders for the near future. The biggest issue on the field this season was at the cornerback position. On a bad day, the defense would give up many big plays and touchdowns in the passing game. The defense also struggled against mobile quarterbacks. In week 7, Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson threw three touchdowns and ran for another. The main bright spots on defense were the pass rush and against the run. Second-year defensive end Hutchinson is an emerging star, generating 61 tackles, 14.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception, earning himself a trip to the Pro Bowl in the process. The offense was a major bright spot for Detroit this year, with multiple newcomers to the team making their case as top players. Rookies Gibbs and LaPorta have both been impact players this year and have strong careers in the league ahead of them. Despite some occasional turnover issues quarterback Goff had a career year and is poised to sign a long-term contract extension.

Detroit’s main goal for the offseason should be to shore up the secondary. Through the draft, free agency, or trades the Lions should focus on picking up a couple of cornerbacks. Top draft targets for this position include Quinyon Mitchell of Toledo and Khyree Jackson of Oregon. Potential free-agent cornerbacks to target are Kansas City’s L’Jarius Sneed and Cincinnati’s Chidobe Awuzie. An interesting trade target would be Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby. This acquisition would give Hutchinson a pass-rushing partner on the opposite end of the defensive line, further bolstering a strong point of the past season’s team. Crosby also has connections to the area, he was born in Lapeer, Michigan and played in college at Eastern Michigan. Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylor Johnson should also be a top trade target, he’s an excellent playmaker and would bring some needed experience to the defense.

This was a season of remarkable progress for the Detroit Lions and they’ll be able to carry their momentum into next season. Young players gained valuable postseason experience that will help them in future seasons. Campbell was voted coach of the year and Holmes was voted executive of the year. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn will both be returning next season. Johnson is the longest-tenured offensive coordinator in the NFL and Glenn is the third longest-tenured defensive coordinator in the league. Both will provide much-needed stability and will buoy the team heading into next season. The rate of coach turnover is quite high in the NFL today and keeping the coordinator around will help start the next season off on the right foot. This, along with smart moves in the offseason will allow the Detroit Lions to take the next step toward Super Bowl contention. This team is an excellent position to build for the future and I’m all for it.

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About the Contributor
Charlie Laman, Journalist
Charlie is a senior at CHS and is in his second year as a member of the yearbook staff. He enjoys photography and is looking forward to contributing to the yearbook this year. In his free time, he enjoys cycling, snowboarding and spending time with family.

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