Hope, faith and belief: How the 2022 Detroit Lions flipped the script

Lions finish season with winning record after 1-6 start

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 08: Head coach Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions is seen on the field prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on January 08, 2023 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) (Stacy Revere, 2023 Getty Images)

The Lions and second-year coach Dan Campbell had become a national story.

It was Oct. 31, Halloween, the morning after the Lions had blown a 14-point halftime lead to the Dolphins to fall to a frightful 1-6. Campbell was now 4-19-1 overall in his season-plus, and was actually off to an even worse start than his failed predecessor, Matt Patricia.

Two days after the Miami debacle, owner Sheila Ford Hamp met with the media to affirm her continued belief in her program and, like an oracle, predicted that her coach would engineer a rapid turnaround.

At the least, Campbell had emerged as an interesting throwback character; a tough 46-year-old Texan who had talked about playing with “grit” and “biting off opponents’ kneecaps,” a thought at his introductory news conference that gained much attention.

After winning just three games in his first season, the Lions were featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks, and Campbell was shown as being tough, but compassionate -- an endearing character who had won over his determined young squad and engendered hope in the team’s “long-suffering” fan base.

But by Halloween, reality had again resurrected the sad notion of the “Same Old Lions.” The team hadn’t won a playoff game in 31 years and the buzzards were circling again, mocking the historic ineptitude of the Ford family ownership and speculating whether Ford Hamp would pull the plug on Campbell more quickly than she had Patricia, her initial failed coaching experiment.

The subsequent turnaround was stunning, culminating in Sunday night’s 20-16 takedown of the Packers on national TV and on a freezing night at Lambeau Field. The Lions won eight of their final 10 games to finish 9-8, and even though Seattle’s win over the Rams had eliminated their remaining playoff hopes, the Lions played with impressive energy and confidence.

The win doused the Packers’ playoff bid, one that the experts had all but conceded to Aaron Rodgers’ team. Campbell was asked on the field at halftime why his team seemed so passionately motivated. He barked, “We don’t want them to go.”

Related: Aaron Rodgers refused to respect the Detroit Lions, so they ended his season

I’ve always viewed the Lions as a sociological experiment in fan loyalty, hope and perseverance. For an NFL team to go 65 years without a championship -- and the last 31 without so much as a playoff win -- is almost a mathematical anomaly. After all, the league’s draft system is designed to promote parity. Yet, the Lions’ failure and mismanagement sustained decade after futile decade.

Finally, the Lions’ legion of frustrated, hankie-wringing -- and otherwise tortured -- loyalists have something real to hang onto. For now, it’s a welcomed break from the angry calls to sports-talk stations; the seething columnists; the frustrated, grousing season ticket holders who complainingly hung onto hope that the Lions would win in their lifetime. (One would have to be at least 70 years old to even have a faint memory of the team’s last title in 1957!)

Despite another playoff-less season, 2022 was one of revelation for Lions fans. They saw an excellent offensive line protecting quarterback Jared Goff, who, even after many pointed to him as a mediocre signal caller and a major part of the problem, had a terrific season.

Fans saw a rookie class that produced a handful of starters. They gained belief in a dynamic and daring coach who dared to call trick plays and went for it on fourth down six times in one game. They see a general manager in Brad Holmes who seems to have a sixth sense for drafting the right guys. Holmes has four picks in the first two rounds next year.

And fans think that Sheila, daughter of much-maligned owner William Clay Ford, may also have the magic touch.

For the first time since 1957, it feels like the future truly is now, and dreaming about a Lions championship is no longer a shared Detroit delusion.