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January 29, 2024

NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: The final 2023-2024 edition

The Lions are the final member of our NFC graveyard.

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012924Lions Junfu Han/USA TODAY NETWORK

The Detroit Lions let a golden opportunity slip away.

The San Francisco 49ers are the final team standing after the Detroit Lions let them off the hook in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. Credit the Niners for clawing back from a 17-point deficit, but also, maaaannnn, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

Who's excited for another Chiefs-Niners Super Bowl?  🥳🎉🎈🎊

To answer that question, probably just people in Kansas City or San Francisco, and scattered Taylor Swift fans throughout the country.

Anyway, I guess we have one last obituary to write.

Obituary: Lions (14-6)


Over the first 30 minutes, it appeared as though the Lions were about to deliver another crushing defeat to the Niners. The offense was humming, and the defense was forcing Brock Purdy into mistakes. But over the last 30 minutes, they simply stopped making good plays.

• Kindle Vildor had a golden opportunity for an INT, but instead the ball bounced off of his facemask and into the arms of Brandon Aiyuk for a 51-yard gain.

• Jahmyr Gibbs and Jared Goff had a bad handoff exchange that Gibbs fumbled, leading to the 49ers' equalizing score.

• Josh Reynolds dropped a couple of catchable passes that killed drives.

• Jameson Williams had a chance to make a TD grab on a deep shot, but he Quez Watkins'd it.

• They stopping running the ball for no good reason, after they had physically dominated the Niners in the trenches for the entire first half.

And then of course Dan Campbell was presented with several "Should I go for it or not" situations that he got wrong, even if his decisions were defensible. What he definitively did mess up, however, was on their final drive, when he decided to run the ball on 3rd and Goal from the SF3 with under a minute to go. That run got stuffed, and then he compounded the mistake by burning one of his three timeouts, which necessitated an onsides kick after they eventually scored.

Those are the types of mistakes that championship teams don't make. The 2023 Lions proved that they were not a championship team. They were talented enough to score some points and get some stops early, but they also proved that experience matters when they fell apart in the second half.

Many will assume that the future is bright for these upstart Lions, and maybe it is. We'll see. But there's also good reason to predict a dropoff in 2024. To begin, they'll have a harder schedule, with eight games against teams that made the playoffs.

But more importantly they're likely to lose star offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, and going forward it’ll be interesting to see if their offense is as potent. Detroit is young and they have a great offensive line, but they did kind of have a window to do something big, and maybe that closed a little? I mean, let's be honest — Jared Goff had a great season, but Johnson did an outstanding job of accentuating his strengths and hiding his deficiencies. Can whoever is next do the same?

After the loss, Dan Campbell acknowledged that they might not get another opportunity like the one they had on Sunday.

Man, that is a brutally honest message to deliver to a team that just had their hearts ripped out. I respect it! 

The 2023 Lions accomplished a lot. They won their first division title since the 1993 season and their first playoff game since the 1991 season. And yet, like the Bills in the AFC, the Lions ultimately were not a team of destiny, as they never are.



And that does it for our NFC Hierarchy/Obituary this season. 🪦

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