DETROIT — Dan Campbell had been waiting for 2,160 days to celebrate another win as an NFL coach.
When it finally arrived, he was ready to celebrate.
Jared Goff’s touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown on the final play of Sunday’s game gave the Detroit Lions a 29-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings after going 0-10-1.
For Campbell, whose animated reaction went viral, the drought was much longer. He hadn’t won as a head coach since his Dolphins beat the New England Patriots 20-10 on Jan. 3, 2016, in his final game as Miami’s interim coach.
“This one was definitely special,” Campbell said on Monday. “Winning is always great, no matter the circumstances, but we’ve gone through a lot this season. When you’ve been around this group 24/7 – the coaches and players – and seen the amount of work they have put in to build this program, it makes it feel so much better to finally get over that hump.”
For 58 minutes, things hadn’t looked much different. The Lions got out to a lead, but turnovers and a botched fourth-down attempt let the Vikings take a 27-23 lead with 1:54 to play.
The Lions stopped Minnesota’s 2-point conversion attempt – the third time they had done that – meaning a touchdown would win the game.
“Getting three of those stops was a huge piece of this victory,” Campbell said. “That gave us a chance to play for the win rather than overtime.”
The Lions got the ball back at their 25, needing a touchdown with 1:50 to play and no timeouts. Detroit isn’t known for a quick-strike offense and Goff has always struggled against heavy pressure, so it seemed inevitable the Vikings would try to force him into a mistake.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, though, was concerned about covering Detroit’s receivers. As a result, he only rushed three players, dropping eight into coverage. That took away any chance of Goff hitting a deep pass, but telling him to hit receivers on 5-yard routes showed off his biggest strength.
The Lions didn’t have a play longer than 13 yards in their final drive, and even that required a cross-field sprint by Godwin Igwebuike to pick up a first down and get out of bounds. However, they got to the 11 with 4 seconds to play, and St. Brown’s catch in front of oddly loose coverage got Campbell his long-awaited win.
He and his players were so emotionally fired up by the victory he didn’t have much left for his family.
“We went home and laid pretty low for the evening,” he said. “I was spent. It just felt good to build a fire, sit on the sofa, hang out with my family and have a smile and a laugh.”
Goff was finally able to give the Lions the vertical passing game they’ve needed all season. He threw for 296 yards, his most since Week 4, and matched a season high with three touchdowns. That was enough of a downfield threat to keep Minnesota from putting more pressure on Goff on the final drive.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Detroit’s defense had been outstanding since the Week 9 bye, holding the Steelers, Browns and Bears to 16 or fewer points. It looked like that would continue on Sunday; Minnesota only had six at halftime. But the Vikings had three touchdowns and a field goal in the last two quarters.
St. Brown, like most of Detroit’s wide receivers, had struggled to make an impact in Goff’s low-risk passing attack. Sunday, though, he caught 10 passes for 86 yards, including his first NFL touchdown as time expired.
Detroit’s running game never got going without D’Andre Swift. The Lions averaged 3.7 yards per rush, and their longest gain on the ground was 11 yards.
The biggest question remains Swift’s return from an upper-body injury.
Number of days since the Lions had won a game.
Enjoy a Victory Monday. They are at Denver on Sunday.
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