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Dan Campbell is right: Blowout loss stings more than loss on Justin Tucker’s field goal

It finally happened. The Road to the Playoffs has hit a speed bump.

And since this is Michigan, it’s more of a Grand Canyon-sized pothole that sent the Detroit Lions’ hype train tumbling off the tracks.

The 38-6 loss to John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens was so bad and so lopsided it almost felt like coach Harbaugh’s squad had stolen the Lions’ signs. (Sorry, too soon?)

Actually, the Ravens didn’t need any advantage because they had two of them built in. Harbaugh has led his team to numerous, big-time victories, including the Super Bowl. And Baltimore is a good, borderline elite team that was ready to give a rising upstart its best shot.

A headline in the Athletic called it a “statement win” and the Ravens were clearly on a mission to expose and humble the up-and-coming NFL darlings from Detroit. (I can’t believe I just wrote that).

Lions coach Dan Campbell looks on in the first half of the loss at Baltimore on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.
Lions coach Dan Campbell looks on in the first half of the loss at Baltimore on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.

“We definitely heard (the noise),” running back Gus Edwards told the Baltimore Sun of the Lions’ top-ranked run. “They are a good defense, but we came to play today. During practice all week we did keep that chip on our shoulder, of the type of game it was going to be.”

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The biggest concern and the biggest lesson that should come out of this for the Lions is that Dan Campbell and his staff haven’t learned how to compete against an elite-level opponent that’s fully healthy and motivated — the kind they will surely face in the playoffs.

The Ravens (5-2) already led the AFC North before the game, they were coming off a win in London and they made the playoffs last year and four out of the past five years, yet they played like a winless team trying to prove something. This wasn’t David sneaking up on Goliath. This was Goliath knocking out Goliath Jr. in the first round.

Two years ago, when the Lions lost on Justin Tucker’s miraculous 66-yard field goal, it felt more like Goliath got lucky. My colleagues and I had a robust debate Monday about which loss hurt more. I said Sunday’s beatdown, but I asked Campbell for his take.

“This one,” he said, “because it just that, to me, it’s not us. That’s not what we’re about. It’s not what we’re about and we just didn’t, we just didn’t have it, we didn’t have it.

“So, look, neither one of them feel good, to be honest with you. But I just — the thought that you’re not even in it, that stings.”

Campbell is entirely correct, mostly because he agrees with me but also because when you’re a good team and you don’t show up, that raises all kinds of existential questions about who you are. When you get nosed out on a somewhat lucky play, you can still be proud of your effort and putting up a good fight.

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And the Ravens proved to themselves that they indeed  are an elite time and did what elite teams led by elite coaches do. They don’t no-show and collapse on any sort of consistent basis.

The Lions have come so far in the last year. I thought blowouts like last year’s 29-0 loss at New England followed by a 24-6 loss at Dallas were out of their system. This is what made Sunday’s loss so shocking.

“Yeah, I can’t say I’m surprised,” Campbell said. “I mean, here’s the thing, I’m surprised because I know us. I know the coaches, I know these players and I don’t expect that. But, when you’ve played long enough and coached long enough in this league, man, unfortunately they happen.”

Yes, there are plenty of examples of anomalous lop-sided losses for elite teams. On Sunday, Jared Goff mentioned the Rams’ 15-6 loss at Chicago in 2018, which happened in December when the Rams were 11-1 and in the same year they went to the Super Bowl.

“Then we came back and won the next few and went on a run in the playoffs,” he said. “That can certainly be the case if you handle it the right way. I expect us to, but you’ve got to go do it.”

Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards (35) rushes during the first half Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.
Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards (35) rushes during the first half Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.

And I think the Lions will. They’re 5-2 and still the third seed in the NFC with a comfortable lead in the division.

Mostly I think this because I believe Campbell isn’t going to let this totally derail his team’s momentum. When he spoke Monday, he was charged up. I could feel it emanating off him from a few feet away. If here were a race horse, he would have been nickering at the starting gate with fully flared nostrils. I don’t know what plans Campbell had for the rest of the day, but I bet they involved a weight bench and copious amounts of Metallica.

“I just know the frustration and anger that I have, that motivates me,” he said. “And I’m pretty sure it does with our players. So we will be ready for this game, we will be ready. We will physically, emotionally, we will be ready for this game.”

The Lions will have to wait eight days between games to host the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night. Listening to him speak a day after such an embarrassing loss, I got the feeling Campbell felt the wait was seven days too long to play the next game and have a chance to cleanse his coaching soul.

Contact Carlos Monarrez: cmonarrez@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions' latest loss should sting more than Justin Tucker’s FG