Dan Campbell admits to at least one mistake from Lions NFC Championship loss

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell admitted to making one mistake in the NFC Championship Game that contributed to their loss.

Jan 28, 2024; Santa Clara, California, USA; Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell looks on during
Jan 28, 2024; Santa Clara, California, USA; Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell looks on during / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions were just two quarters away from reaching the Super Bowl for the first time. However, they witnessed their 24-7 lead over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game disappear and ended up losing 34-31. It was a tough moment for Lions fans, who just felt their luck turn around with their deep playoff run, only to witness perhaps the most heartbreaking loss in recent memory.

Head coach Dan Campbell is under scrutiny for his decisions in the second half. We know that he is an aggressive head coach who likes to go for it on fourth down, and two chances notably backfired. There was one decision in the game that Campbell admitted was a mistake.

Campbell admitted that he made an error in calling a running play with David Montgomery on third-and-goal late in the fourth quarter. Campbell said he liked the call based on San Francisco's defensive lineup before the play and thought Montgomery would make it into the end zone. Because Montgomery was knocked backward for a two-yard loss, Campbell had to burn his first of three timeouts.

Dan Campbell admits third-and-goal run play late in fourth quarter of NFC Championship Game was a mistake

“Yeah, look the easy thing to do is to throw it,” Campbell said, h/t MLive.com. "Probably should’ve been the right thing, but for me, I wanted to run it. I thought we would just pop it. We had just (run the 2-minute offense) all the way down the field, throwing the football, and they were in a four-down front and I believed we’d walk right in. And we just missed a block. So then, yeah, I’ve got to use a timeout.

“So, hindsight, throw it four times. But I believed in that moment it was going to be a walk-and-run, and it didn’t work out. So, I gambled and lost.”

The Lions would score on the next play on a three-yard pass from quarterback Jared Goff to wide receiver Jameson Williams to cut their deficit to 34-31 after an extra-point attempt. But there were only 56 seconds left on the game clock.

Detroit attempted an onside kick to regain possession with a chance to either win or tie the game, but the 49ers recovered. With the Lions having just two timeouts at their disposal with 55 seconds remaining, the 49ers ran three plays before kneeling the football down on fourth down to end the game.

Considering the Lions were also in field goal range at that time, Campbell could have also decided to go for an immediate field goal to give the ball back to the 49ers with as much time remaining as possible. Not to mention, Campbell wouldn't have burned a timeout.

There were other reasons why the Lions lost this game besides Campbell's decisions. There were multiple notable drops from wide receivers, two notably from Josh Reynolds on pivotal third- and fourth-down plays that would have been first downs. Then, there was the fumble by rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs that set up the 49ers' game-tying touchdown in the third quarter.

This will be a learning experience for Campbell and the Lions when they look to make another playoff run next year to help the team reach the Super Bowl.