Two years ago, it took Dan Campbell a dozen games to earn his first victory as coach of the Detroit Lions.
That win would have come much earlier if not for Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, whose 66-yard field goal handed Campbell and his team a crushing home defeat in September of that season.
“I just remember thinking over and over it’s like enjoy it now, just enjoy it now because our time will come, and we’ve just got to get through the hard stuff,” Campbell said this week. “And here we go, man. We’ve got an opportunity. We’re in year three of this program, we’re 5-1 and we’ve got to go earn the next win.”
Campbell and the Lions stayed the course through that difficult 2021 season. After the loss to the Ravens, quarterback Jared Goff said defiantly that “the gut punches will stop” – and now, as Detroit prepares to face Baltimore again Sunday, Motown’s team is in a much different place. This is a matchup of division leaders. In fact, the Lions are one of five teams in a tie for the NFL’s best record.
This will be the first home game in four weeks for the Ravens (4-2), although in one sense that might be a relief for the Lions, given what Tucker has done at Detroit’s Ford Field. He kicked a 61-yard field goal there to beat the Lions in 2013, then outdid himself with a record-long boot from 66 two seasons ago.
That was the third game of Campbell’s first season. The Lions didn’t win one until December.
“Everything that happens, happens for a reason and it helps you grow,” Campbell said. “If it doesn’t, it’s because you don’t know how to grow. So, we’ve taken our lumps and we’re going to be better for it.”
There’s certainly evidence of that. Detroit has won 13 of its last 16 games and looks poised to break through after narrowly missing the playoffs last season.
“You just know you’re going to get your best shot from them. This is a team that’s been rolling since the end of last year,” Ravens safety Geno Stone said. “I feel like they have a head coach that’s a fiery head coach that’s going to get their guys going, so we just have to know that we’re going to get the best out of all those guys.”
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Detroit has given up 10 sacks this season – only four teams have allowed fewer. Baltimore has 24 sacks, tied with Buffalo for the league lead.
Tucker kicked six field goals in Baltimore’s 24-16 win over Tennessee in London last weekend, although none of them was all that long. The Ravens have allowed only six touchdowns this season – no other team has yielded fewer than eight – but Baltimore has only reached the end zone once in each of the past two games.
The Ravens certainly have the right kicker for when they’re in a tight, low-scoring game.
The Lions are off to their best their best start in 12 years and are tied with Kansas City, Miami, Philadelphia and San Francisco for the NFL’s best record. They haven’t had at least a share of the league’s best mark this late in a season since 1993, when they went on to win the NFC Central for the franchise’s most recent division title.
“It’s important for us to be in this position because that was the expectation this year,” defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said. “And, now we’re here.”
Detroit has an opportunity to be 6-1 for the first time since 1956, which was during a six-year stretch when the franchise won three NFL titles in four appearances in the league championship game.
“We’ll be ready to welcome those guys here,” Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith said. “They’re playing good ball, but hey, I’m from the show-me business, so you have to show me.”
The Ravens have outscored opponents 41-6 in the first quarter, and they’ve led entering the fourth in every game this season.
Detroit has outscored opponents 48-10 in the opening quarter.
Baltimore receiver Zay Flowers ranks second among rookies in both receptions (35) and yards receiving (367). Lions tight end Sam LaPorta is third in both those categories with 29 catches for 325 yards.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl