DETROIT -- An all-too-familiar narrative played itself out in the Detroit Lions' season opener Sunday.
Yes, the Lions played hard against the Philadelphia Eagles. They even made it competitive late, pulling within three points of Philly with just under four minutes to play. But they fell short ... yet again.
For those who follow the franchise closely, close losses have become an ongoing theme in the Motor City. Including Sunday’s 38-35 defeat to the Eagles, the Lions have seven losses in one-score games since the start of 2021, tied with the Carolina Panthers for second most in the league, per ESPN Stats & Information research. The Minnesota Vikings, their NFC North division rivals, lead the league with eight. The Lions’ .250 winning percentage (2-7-1 record) in such games ranks fifth worst in the NFL in that span.
Despite the ugly numbers, the team is working hard at flipping the all-to-familiar script.
“Coach [Dan Campbell] always says you can’t become numb to it (losing). I hate losing with a passion … gotta go back to work, watch the film, see what you can get better at. It’s always little stuff,” said Lions running back D’Andre Swift, who rushed for a career-high 144 yards against his hometown Eagles. “One or two plays that can change the momentum of the game. Gotta be better.”
Detroit began the game with a strong opening drive -- including a 50-yard gain from Swift -- before his backfield mate Jamaal Williams punched it in from close. But the defense couldn’t contain the Eagles’ ground attack -- Philadelphia became the first team to have four different players with a rushing touchdown in a season opener since the 1967 Raiders -- or quarterback Jalen Hurts and wideout A.J. Brown. Hurts rushed for 90 yards on 17 carries and passed for 243 more. Brown, making his Eagles debut after being traded from the Tennessee Titans, finished with 10 catches and 155 receiving yards.
The Lions added self-inflicted wounds as well. A miscommunication on offense resulted in a second-quarter pick-six of Jared Goff. And halfway through the game, Lions safety and captain Tracy Walker III was ejected after receiving two personal foul penalties on the same play after a late hit on Hurts, who was already sliding.
“We ran the ball well. I thought our line played really well,” Goff said. “I thought Swift did what we expected him to do, and we just left too much stuff out there. We had so many big plays to be made out there and left them on the field.”
Said wideout DJ Chark: “We’ve got to clean up everything, each phase of the game, and not trying to come out and be OK with losing by one or two.”
Campbell’s message to the team in the locker room following their latest close loss was simple: keep pushing.
“They understand. I mean, it hurts more for them than it does anybody. And we were this close and so, it’s really like, ‘Look, man, this is Game 1 and we’ve got a long season here.’ And I said the good news is that we didn’t play very well and we lost by three,” Campbell said. “That’s what you can take away from this. Now, if we just take this whole approach where every week it’s like, ‘We lost by three, we lost by three, we lost by three.’ Then, what are we doing? So, we’ve got to clean this up and we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be a lot better in all the areas.”