Lions not biting kneecaps, but are winning with a distinctive style

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The emergence of the Detroit Lions can be traced back to head coach Dan Campbell’s now-infamous introductory press conference in January 2021.

In a memorable soliloquy, Campbell’s referenced biting kneecaps as an analogy to the toughness he hoped to instill upon the Lions.

Campbell and the Lions have improved every year since his opening press conference: from 3-13-1 in 2021, 9-8 in 2022 to 7-2 and on top of the NFC North after a 41-38 shootout victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 10.

“You do what you have to do to find a way to win,” Campbell said postgame Sunday. “The most important thing for us, I wanted us to play fast, physical and violent and truly compete. I did feel that way in all three phases.”

Fast, physical and violent are three of the Lions’ characteristics that have helped the club have the top record in their division and the second-best record in the conference.

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On Sunday, the Lions controlled the game upfront versus the Chargers. Detroit rushed 31 times for 200 yards and had three rushing touchdowns in the hard-fought, thrilling win. The Lions were successful on four of five fourth down attempts, including a 6-yard David Montgomery run on fourth-and-5 in the first quarter, and a 6-yard Jared Goff pass to Sam LaPorta on fourth-and-2 that set up the game-winning field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter.

Campbell’s established an identity with the Lions in three short years that embodies the city of Detroit: blue collar, tough and gritty. The Lions have one of the best offensive lines in football and a defense that is physical at the point of attack.

“Oh, 100 percent,” Lions offensive tackle Taylor Decker told USA Today Sports. “That’s kind of the characteristics that this team wanted to be built upon and ultimately was built upon.”

Will Lions snap playoff drought?

The Minnesota Vikings (two games) and Dallas Cowboys are the only two teams left on Detroit’s schedule that currently have a winning record. The Lions are two games in front of the second-place Vikings in the NFC North and control their own destiny with eight games remaining in the regular season. Decker, the eight-year veteran and longest-tenured Lions player, was on the team the last time Detroit earned a playoff berth in 2016.

The Lions haven’t won a playoff game in 31 years, the longest active postseason win drought in the NFL. George H. W. Bush was the U.S. President the last time the Lions sniffed playoff success.

Decker said Detroit is ‘buzzing’ over the recent success of the of the Lions as they inch closer to earning a playoff spot.

“The excitement that’s been buzzing around in the city, you can feel it. You can feel it when you go to the gas station. I see people at gas stations all the time saying, ‘oh yeah, great game.’ When you’re getting your oil change, the oil change guys are all fired up. It’s fun to be a part of something like that,” Decker said. “Be part of a team and an organization that brings people joy and excitement. Especially in a blue-collar city like we’re in … I know they have been starving for a winner. You can just feel the energy and feel the people buzzing.”

‘It feels good right now’

The Lions (7-2) are off to their best start since 2014. The Lions don’t literally bite kneecaps. However, they are tough, gritty and hardnosed. They have a blue-collar mentality that they believe embodies the city of Detroit.

The franchise might finally give Motown some playoff success this season if they continue on their trajectory.

‘It feels good. It’s fun. It really is fun and we’re having fun. We’re playing well,” Goff said. “We’re winning in a variety of ways. It’s a good feeling right now.”

Longest playoff win droughts

➤ Detroit Lions – 31 years (Last win: Jan. 5, 1992)

➤ Miami Dolphins – 22 years (Last win: Dec. 30, 2000)

➤ Las Vegas Raiders – 20 years (Last win: Jan. 12, 2003)

➤ Washington Commanders – 17 years (Last win: Jan. 7, 2006)

➤ New York Jets – 12 years (Last win: Jan. 8, 2011)

➤ Chicago Bears – 12 years (Last win: Jan. 16, 2011)

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Tyler Dragon on X @TheTylerDragon.

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