Tricks, but no treat: Lions special teams gambles fall short

CJ Moore Lions Rams Football
Posted at 11:13 PM, Oct 24, 2021

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Dan Campbell emptied the playbook in an effort to get his first NFL victory as a head coach, only to see it fall short.

The Detroit coach saw his Lions successfully execute an onside kick and two fake punts Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams. The Lions jumped out to a 10-0 first quarter lead, but were unable to sustain the momentum as the Rams rallied for a 28-19 victory.

“It’s frustrating,” Campbell said. “We felt like we could get an advantage there and see if we get some possessions back. They helped, but it wasn’t enough. We knew we needed to play this game a certain way, and we did that. We needed them to play a little bit more of our game, and a track meet was going to be hard for us.

“So we needed to try to stick around in the fourth quarter and find a way to win it.”

According to Sportradar, it is the first time since Jacksonville in Week 15 of the 2014 season that a team had a successful onside kick and fake punt in the same game.

After D’Andre Swift’s 63-yard touchdown off a screen pass by Jared Goff gave the Lions a 7-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game, Campbell told his team it was going to do an onside kick. It worked to perfection as Tracy Walker recovered it at the Lions 47-yard line.

Since the onside kick rules were amended in 2018 to protect players from high-impact collisions, teams have been successful on only 18 of 199 onside attempts. The Lions, though, have two of this season’s three recoveries.

Detroit wasn’t done with its trickeration.

When the ensuing drive appeared as if it was going to stall at midfield, punter Jack Fox fired a pass to Bobby Price that went for 17 yards and another first down. The drive continued and resulted in Austin Seibert’s 37-yard field goal to put the Lions up 10-0 midway through the first quarter.

The fast start helped jumpstart the Lions, who had gone scoreless three times in the last four games in the first 30 minutes coming into Sunday.

“We felt like the time was right. (Special teams coordinator) Dave Fipp did a hell of a job. We talked about it all week and those guys executed the plan perfectly all week,” Campbell said. “It just gives you a ton of faith. We had a feel the look could be there and so we wanted to give it a go.”

Campbell dialed up one more trick play in the third quarter when upback C.J. Moore fielded the snap in punt formation and went 28 yards around left end to the Rams 37. The Lions were unable to get any points on the drive when Swift was stopped for no gain on 4th-and-1 from the LA 18.

“That is usually something we practice once or twice a week going back to OTAs (offseason workouts),” Moore said. “We knew we had that in our bag and we finally pulled it out.”

Rams coach Sean McVay said they were not caught off guard by the trick plays, but not stopping them was frustrating.

“What’s a little bit disappointing is that was not stuff that we were surprised by. But we did not execute and they did,” he said. “They ended up creating a bunch of momentum.”

Jared Goff — who threw for 268 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in his return to SoFi Stadium — said keeping the Rams’ high-powered offense off the field worked to the Lions’ advantage. However, two late picks by Goff proved to be fatal.

“They’ve got a high-powered offense and keeping those guys off the field as much as possible. At the same time, we’re running the ball well,” he said. “We’re doing some good things on offense to get us back on the field. So, that was definitely part of the plan for him, and it worked, obviously.”

The Lions are 0-7 for the third time since the merger and first since 2008, when they became the first team to go 0-16 in the regular season. Campbell is hoping to prevent his team from going into another tailspin.

“If this does not continue to sting and burn and taste like you know what, then you got a problem,” he said. “You cannot allow yourself to go numb. You can’t. ’Cause I’m not. It just motivates me to want to get out of this mess.”