Dan Campbell bites his own kneecaps with fourth down calls in Lions loss: Best memes and tweets

Dan Campbell made aggressive fourth down decisions during the Detroit Lions loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. Did it shift the momentum?

Lions coach Dan Campbell
Lions coach Dan Campbell / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Detroit Lions looked ready for their first trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history. With a 24-7 lead at halftime, Detroit fans began to chant quarterback Jared Goff's name. Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson waved goodbye to San Francisco.

Then, it finally happened — Detroit fans spent most of the season waiting for it, fearing it. But the Lions won the division for the first time in 30 years. Then, they won a playoff game. Then they won another. That was enough to convince skeptical fans that it wasn't going to happen. And that's when it happened: just when optimism began to creep in, the 2023 Detroit Lions revealed that they were still the Same Old Lions.

It fell apart bit by bit for the Lions, slowly at first and then seemingly all at once. A boggling fourth-down call, a bobbled interception turned into a reception, a botched handoff turned into a fumble. In heartbreaking fashion, the Lions lost the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31.

Did Dan Campbell's fourth down decisions cost the Lions?

In an unprecedented collapse, the Lions allowed the largest second half comeback in conference championship history. Teams leading by 17-plus points at halftime were 21-0 in conference championship games. Entering the postseason, the San Francisco 49ers didn't have a single fourth-quarter comeback during the regular season and entering the postseason, they were 0-30 under coach Kyle Shanahan when trailing by seven-plus points entering the fourth quarter.

Holding a 24-10 lead with 7:03 remaining in the third quarter, head coach Dan Campbell elected to bypass a field goal on fourth down. The Lions failed to convert the fourth down attempt, which led to a five-play 72-yard touchdown drive by the 49ers.

Trailing 27-24 with 7:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, Campbell elected to go for another fourth down instead of taking a game-tying field goal. The Lions failed to convert that fourth down attempt as well, which led to a seven-play 70-yard touchdown drive that increased San Francisco's lead, 34-24.

Those two fourth-down attempts were certainly game-changing decisions. San Francisco was struggling to move the ball prior to Detroit's turnover on downs, and the momentum swing sent the Lions into a downward spiral.

Then again, the aggressive play-calling is part of how the Lions got to the NFC Championship Game. It's fair to say that's the method behind the madness, but coaches also need to recognize that they don't need to be aggressive in every situation. Momentum and situations go a long way in deciding whether a fourth-down decision is a wise one. Analytics without context don't mean much.

Another likely factor is that kicker Michael Badgley has been inconsistent on long field goals throughout the season, and both kickers struggled during the Divisional Round game at Levi's Stadium.

Social media reacts to Dan Campbell's fourth down decisions

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