Detroit Lions’ late clock management was puzzling, considering typical aggressive nature

Lions play for overtime after having ball with chance to win in regulation

Head coach Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions looks on during the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field on September 17, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Todd Rosenberg, 2023 Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Detroit Lions’ clock management late in the loss to Seattle was very puzzling, especially considering the team’s typical aggressive nature.

Lions run out clock in regulation

Here’s what happened: Just when it looked like the Lions were toast -- down 10 points midway through the fourth quarter -- they came storming back and gave themselves a chance to win the game.

Seattle punted the ball back to the Lions with 1:44 left on the clock and a three-point lead. Jared Goff and the offense took over from midfield with all three timeouts remaining.

It might not sound like much, but 1:44 is a ton of time for an NFL offense, especially starting at the 50-yard line. But you know what’s not a ton of time? 32 seconds. And that’s exactly how much the Lions had left on the clock after just two plays.

Goff hit Josh Reynolds for a 12-yard gain to start the drive and then handed off to Kalif Raymond for 11 more yards. That got the Lions to the Seahawks’ 27-yard line. But because the clock was down to 32 seconds, the offense didn’t have the luxury of using the whole playbook.

Instead, two of the next three plays were short passes to Jahmyr Gibbs, setting up the game-tying field goal.

Complete change in mentality

In that moment, Dan Campbell and his staff were so concerned about how much time was left on the clock that they forgot the most important priority: winning the football game.

Campbell said during his postgame presser that he wanted to give the Seahawks as little time as possible if the Lions had scored on that final drive. That’s completely understandable, and I’m glad he’s considering all angles of these big moments. But wouldn’t he rather have a four-point lead and risk giving Seattle the ball with 30 seconds left than put the entire game on an overtime coin flip?

Head coach Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions reacts after a play during the third quarter in the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field on September 17, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (2023 Getty Images)

The Lions’ offense was playing well, and the defense was awful. When the Seahawks punted, they put the game in the hands of the Lions’ offense. Isn’t that right where Campbell would want to be?

With a touchdown, the Lions would have been up by four points. So Seattle would have needed to get into the end zone, not just into field goal range. Make Geno Smith drive 75 yards in under a minute to win the game. If he does that, fine. But don’t hamstring your own offense with the game on the line.

It was such a 180 in terms of Campbell’s coaching mentality. The Lions beat the Kansas City Chiefs last week because he was willing to try a fake punt from his own 17-yard line. How does that same coach turn around and play for a field goal with 1:44 on the clock?

If Campbell is willing to put the game on the line by going for a 4th and 4 at midfield, he certainly should have been willing to give his offense a chance to go win the game in regulation. Instead, the Lions played for a coin flip, and it came back to bite them.

Campbell is a relatively new coach. He’s still learning, and he has the support of the fan base when he takes big risks. But the Lions aren’t just a lovable underdog anymore -- they have real playoff aspirations. So Campbell would be better off sticking to the aggressive identity that got the Lions this far in the first place.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.