The Lions did a Lionish thing late in Thursday’s loss to the Bears, calling one timeout to conserve time and then another because they didn’t like the intersection of the offensive and defensive alignments before the next play. By rule (a quirky one), the officials are supposed to ignore the second timeout but, if they don’t, the team calling it gets penalized five yards.
The flag thrown on Detroit changed a third and nine for Chicago from the Detroit 16 to a third and four from the Detroit 11. Chicago converted with a seven-yard gain and then milked the clock down to one second before kicking the game-winning field goal.
After the game, Lions coach Dan Campbell bluntly explained the alternative to calling the time out: “Stand there and watch them score, I guess,” he said, via the team’s official website.
Campbell said there was a “miscommunication” regarding the call, with half the secondary believing it was one thing and the other half believing it was something else.
Linebacker Alex Anzalone defended the decision. “It was still, I think, third down after that,” Anzalone said. “Either way, the five-yard penalty wasn’t that huge of a deal. Rather than a touchdown, that really [would have] put the game out of arm’s reach.”
While Campbell and the Lions may have a perfectly reasonable explanation for doing something that looked so stupid, this doesn’t change the fact that Campbell and the Lions did something that looked so stupid. As someone accurately told me years ago, “I may have a perfectly good explanation for showing up to work without pants on, but it doesn’t change the fact that I showed up to work without pants on.”
For the Lions, there shouldn’t have been a miscommunication coming out of a timeout. Everyone should have known the approach. There should have been no need to consciously choose giving up five yards in order to avoid a potential disaster. The disaster shouldn’t need to have been avoided.
Moreover, it didn’t seem as if Campbell consciously chose to give up five yards. After the penalty flag was thrown, Campbell could be seen saying to an official, “What was the call? What was the call?” If Campbell was aware of the rule when the team called a second straight time out between plays, he would have known that the Lions had been called for delay of game.
Then there’s this — giving up the touchdown would have made the score, at worst, 21-14. And the Lions would have had more than 1:40 to force overtime or win in regulation with a two-point conversion. By burning two timeouts and giving up the first down on the next play, the Lions couldn’t avoid the Bears attempting a walk-off field goal for the win.
At one point on Thursday, one of the Fox announcers said that Campbell is learning on the job. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, not with so many qualified individuals and so few head-coaching vacancies. No NFL head coach should be given the luxury of learning on the job; either you already know how to do it, or the team should hire someone else who does.
Including the dozen games he served as the interim head coach of the Dolphins in 2015, Campbell has now worked as a head coach for 23 games. If you’re still learning the job 23 games in and six years after your first dozen games as a head coach, maybe someone else should have gotten that job.