DETROIT — Gazing from the sidelines of Ford Field, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell rested his hands on his knees, slightly slouched over in anticipation of the game’s final play.
As quarterback Jared Goff found rookie receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown on a walk-off touchdown pass for a 29-27 upset win over the Minnesota Vikings that gave the Lions their first win this season, Campbell yelled, leaping in the air with joy as Goff rushed over to him for a big hug.
After experiencing that emotional high of victory for the first time this season, Campbell didn’t lose sight of the bigger picture.
“This game ball goes to the whole Oxford community and all those who were affected,” Campbell said, referencing the shooting Tuesday at Oxford High School that left four teenagers dead. “And that being said, man, I just … I want us to not forget these names: Madisyn Baldwin, Hana St. Juliana, Justin Shilling, Tate Myre, Phoebe Arthur, Jon Asciutto, Riley Franz, Elijah Mueller, Kylie Ossege, Aiden Watson and Molly Darnell, who’s a teacher.
“Those names for all those who will never be forgotten and they’re in our hearts and in our prayers.”
Even without dynamic running back D’Andre Swift (shoulder), the Lions were playing inspired football on the heels of the shooting. The school is located a little more than 30 miles outside of Detroit. The Lions honored the victims with a moment of silence ahead of the kickoff, while also wearing T-shirts, hats and helmet decals as a tribute.
“Like to me, I just … my thought was, ‘Hey man, if we can for three hours just ease their suffering a little bit, that’s worth it. That’s worth it,'” Campbell said. “And so that’s kind of how I thought of this and we just did a great job. Players, they responded, played well.”
The team held a meeting on Saturday to revisit the full details of the Oxford High School shooting to make sure they knew the magnitude of what they were playing for. With some guys so locked in on football, Campbell and his staff wanted to enlighten them on specifically what was going on by showing them videos and media reports of the horrific scene. A 15-year-old student is accused of killing four of his classmates and is being charged as an adult. His parents were also charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The Lions said they tried to rally around the story.
“You never hope for a tragedy like this, but you hope to be a light for those people and a positive thing that they can have fun watching today,” Goff said, fighting back tears while wearing an Oxford hat. “I hope that they were all watching today and were able to enjoy that win, and we can take their minds off it for whatever it may be, three hours. I think anytime we can do that, it’s a lot bigger than our sport, it’s a lot bigger than us. I think that today is one of those special circumstances that we were able to rise to the occasion and make something special happen.”
Lions fans were able to experience something special on Sunday as well: a win for the first time in over a calendar year. Detroit will no longer have to field questions about a winless season after celebrating its first regular-season win since Dec. 6, 2020. It also marked the Lions’ first victory at home since Nov. 15, 2020.
At halftime, the Lions held their largest lead of the season after going up 20-6 and ended a streak of 10 straight games in which they were held under 20 points. Goff controlled the offense, going 25-for-41 with 296 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Without Swift, Jamaal Williams stepped up with 17 carries for 71 rushing yards and St. Brown caught 10 passes for 86 receiving yards.
Detroit (1-10-1) also snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Vikings, dating back to 2017. This is the latest in a season (the Lions’ 12th game) since 1970 that a team won its first game on a deciding touchdown on the final play of regulation. The previous mark belonged to the 1999 Cleveland Browns, who were 0-7 before winning on a Tim Couch Hail Mary on Halloween against the New Orleans Saints, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
After scoring the game-winning touchdown, St. Brown described the scene as something he’ll never forget.
“Definitely, definitely. I mean, my first NFL touchdown, first NFL win, I’m going to remember this day for a long time,” St. Brown said. “The way it happened, the way it unfolded was … I mean it was just … it couldn’t be any better.”