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After eliminating the Bucs in the playoffs, Lions now focus on the 49ers

Dan Campbell gave an intense speech during his hour-long news conference on January 21, 2021, which became known as the “kneecaps” speech. Campbell is the new coach of the Detroit Lions.

“So, this team is going to be built on, we’re going to kick you in the teeth, right? And when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you,” Campbell said to reporters. “And when you knock us down, we’re going to get up and, on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off. All right?”

Three years to the day of that speech, on Sunday, Campbell had the Lions enjoying their first NFC Championship Game appearance in thirty-two years, a 31-23 victory over the Tampa Bay Bucs at Ford Field.

“I envisioned that we would have a chance to compete with the big boys, and that’s where we’re at,” Campbell stated afterwards. “All you got to do is get in, and it’s about placing yourself in the very best position to where you can move. You get a home game and maybe you get a second home game, and now all of a sudden it gets a little easier.”

Only thrice in franchise history have the Lions won multiple playoff games in a season; the other two times were in 1952 and 1957, when they won NFL titles (prior to the Super Bowl era). Next Sunday, Detroit will play the 49ers in San Francisco, with the NFC championship at stake.

The Lions, who were 3-13-1 in 2021, were among the poorest teams in the league; nevertheless, under Campbell’s leadership, they have made their first conference title run since the 1991 season. His players adhere to his leadership style of lunch-pail, all in.

Lions offensive lineman Penei Sewell stated, “I owe that man, everything, and I’ll put it all on the line for him. I’m just happy to finally see where we are right now,” “And we’ve got a lot more left in the tank, a lot more meat on the bone, so that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Jared Goff, the quarterback, stated that the Lions are “not here by accident,” citing the assistance of general manager Brad Holmes and the coaching staff in forming the team’s roster.

“I don’t want to say this arrogantly, but we expected to win the first game (in the wild-card round against the Los Angeles Rams), we expected to win this game and now we get to go to a game we expected to be in against a really good team at their place — and we’re going to come into it expecting to win,” Goff stated. “It’ll be a tough game, but it’ll be fun.”

Against Tampa Bay, Goff completed 11 of 12 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter alone. Goff, who had a career-high two passing touchdowns and 287 passing yards at the end of the game, was greatly assisted by the Lions’ 2023 draft class. Sam LaPorta, the 34th choice, had nine receptions for 65 receiving yards, which was the highest ever by a rookie tight end in an NFL playoff game. With 13:13 left in the fourth quarter, the Lions led 24-17 thanks to a 31-yard touchdown run by No. 12-selected player Jahmyr Gibbs. After Doak Walker in the NFL championship games of 1952 and 1953, Gibbs became the second player in Lions history to score a touchdown on the ground in back-to-back playoff games, and the first in a single postseason to accomplish so. Gibbs added 40 receiving yards to his 74 yards of rushing.

With 1:39 remaining in the game, Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes made a game-winning interception off Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield on a short pass in the middle of the field, sending Lions supporters into a frenzy inside Ford Field.

As a former tight end who spent three seasons with the Lions (2006–2008), Campbell understood their enthusiasm. After the 1970 merger, he is currently the ninth different coach to lead a team he played for to the conference title game. He declared that he is not squandering this opportunity.

“It’s not the first thing you think of if you go to L.A. or just in general,”  Campbell remarked of Detroit. “You’ve got the sun, you’ve got the beach, you’ve got plenty of other things going on. And here, man, it’s harsh winters, auto industry, blue collar, things aren’t always easy. And I just think, that’s what we’re about. You want something the city can be proud of.”

“You can look at those guys and say, ‘Man, I can back that guy. I can back that team. I can resonate with those group of guys. They’re kind of salty. They don’t quit. They play hard.’ And so, I feel like we’ve done that. And I think these guys, they have a kinship with this city and this area, and they love it, man, and ultimately, that’s what you want. Now, a year from now, two years, we’ll be getting booed, maybe; that’s a whole other deal, though. But right now, life’s good, and I’m glad we could deliver that.”

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