ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions opened and the closed the 2022 season with a lot of excitement and a dash of hope.
The Lions were featured on HBO's “Hard Knocks” in the preseason, firing up fans who enjoyed seeing and hearing coach Dan Campbell and players such as running back Jamaal Williams behind the scenes, and they ended the regular season by winning eight of 10 games.
Detroit (9-8) fell just short of making the playoffs for the first time in six years and finished with its first winning record since 2017. The Lions' win at Green Bay on Sunday night kept the Packers out of the postseason and provided another sign that the franchise finally has a bright future.
“It just proves we’re on the right track,” Campbell said Monday. “The coaches that I have here, the players that we’ve drafted, the players that we’ve kept that were here before us, the free agents we’ve signed, it was the right decision.
“These are the right guys for us, particularly in 2022.”
Campbell won just three games in 2021 in his debut season and followed up with a 1-6 record that didn't deter the confidence owner Sheila Ford Hamp had in him. Hamp publicly shared why she had faith in Campbell and first-time general manager Brad Holmes during the shaky start.
“I really appreciate her doing that, but I knew how she felt about me," Campbell said.
Detroit joined the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals and 2021 Miami Dolphins as the three teams in league history that started 1-6 and finished with a winning record. The Lions relied on an improved defense and quarterback Jared Goff playing what he said was the best football of his career.
“He’s one of the biggest reasons we even got this turnaround, just with his decision-making and taking care of the football,” Campbell said.
Goff, who didn't throw an interception in his last nine games and 324 straight passes, will cost the Lions more than $30 million to keep next season.
Does he expect to return?
“I would think so, but who knows,” he said.
ON THE MOVE?
The Houston Texans asked the Lions for permission to interview offensive coordinator Ben Johnson for their head coaching job, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because interview candidates were not announced.
“He would be worthy of that," Campbell said. “He’s extremely bright. He’s creative. He’s organized. He's a great communicator.”
NO MORE SOL
Detroit has one playoff victory since winning the 1957 NFL title, and that was 31 years ago. This century, the Lions have made the playoffs just three times.
Campbell hopes the relatively successful season will quiet critics.
“I don’t want to hear that anymore, ‘The same old Lions,’” he said. “That's what this is all about. There’s so many things and it all comes with winning, but I wanted to be a part of building a brand new brand.”
Detroit's rookies set an NFL record with 20 1/2 sacks, including 9 1/2 by Aidan Hutchinson. James Houston added eight sacks in seven games. Defensive end Josh Paschal, a second-round selection, and sixth-round linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez also contributed to the sack total that surpassed the record set by the 1999 Tennessee Titans.
Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick, also had three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Safety Kerby Joseph, drafted in the third round, became the first rookie to have four interceptions for the franchise since 1986. James Mitchell, a fifth-round pick, had one of the team-record 12 touchdowns by tight ends.
Speedy receiver Jameson Williams, who Detroit traded up to draft coming off a knee injury at Alabama, showed flashes of promise with a 41-yard touchdown reception and a 40-yard reverse in six games.
“He's as talented as anybody I've been around,” Goff said.
HE'S NOT FREE
Jamaal Williams can become an unrestricted free agent at a good time for his bank account.
Williams, who turns 28 in April, ran for 1,000-plus yards for the first time in his career and had 17 rushing touchdowns to break Barry Sanders' franchise record.
He counted $4.375 million against the cap in his second season with the Lions and it will probably cost much more to keep him.
“I would love to come back, but I know it's a business,” Williams said.
HELP ON THE WAY
The Lions will have a chance to bolster its defense, which ranked last in the NFL, in the draft. They have No. 6 pick from the Los Angeles Rams as part of the Matthew Stafford trade, as well as the No. 18 selection overall.
KEEPING IT REAL
Campbell met with the team and had a brief and heartfelt message about offseason expectations.
“Be smart and be safe,” he recalled telling the players. “I don’t want to go to any funerals.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Larry Lage, The Associated Press