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How Dan Campbell’s creative play-calling pushed the Lions past the NFC North-leading Vikings

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The Lions added some wrinkles to their playbook Sunday and showed a willingness to push the envelope against a flimsy Vikings defense.

It paid off in spades for Detroit, which claimed an important 34-23 victory over Minnesota, both delaying the Vikes clinching the NFC North crown and also cementing the Lions’ status as a playoff contender, words you wouldn’t have expected to hear this time last year.

Dan Campbell’s squad got everything it signed up for and then some against Minnesota. Vikings star wideout Justin Jefferson racked up a career-high 223 receiving yards while Kirk Cousins put together his sixth career game of 400 passing yards.

It was imperative for the Lions — and their high-octane offense — to stay on the field, given their defensive limitations. Campbell made sure his team did just that, gambling on several occasions as Detroit pulled itself to 6-7.

MORE: Lions’ playoff chances after win over Vikings

Here are two of the most eye-opening risks that Campbell and Co. took in their third win in four divisional games:

Dan Campbell’s play-calling, explained

For all of the Lions’ foibles over the years (and there have been plenty), Campbell has always showed an interest in winning games, sometimes to a fault.

Detroit went for it on fourth down a league-leading 41 times last year. They have made 28 such attempts this season, the third-highest total in the NFL.

Simply, Campbell and the Lions like to put people on the edge of their seats. They did it again Sunday with two plays in particular.

MORE: Jameson Williams’ first NFL catch goes for a touchdown

The fake punt

Detroit needed a volunteer for its first trick (play). Fortunately, C.J. Moore proved a willing participant.

With the ball on their 27 and the just over 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Lions lined up in punt formation. Moore slotted in behind the rightmost up back, seemingly readying for the torrent of Purple People Eaters about to come his way.

That’s when the ball was snapped directly to him. He sprung down the sideline, picking up major yardage while leaving a shocked Vikings front line behind. The 42-yard gain set up a Jared Goff-to-Josh Reynolds touchdown pass later in the drive.

Moore kept it simple in his postgame presser as he expressed appreciation for Campbell’s faith in the punt unit:

Can’t argue with that.

MORE: Why Rams’ brutal Super Bowl hangover could gift Lions a top- five pick

Penei Sewell’s catch

Taking chances right out of halftime is one thing. Taking them with the game on the line is something completely different.

Campbell might say differently, though. Because with Detroit clinging to a one-possession lead at the two-minute warning, the coaching staff opted to line up Penei Sewell — the Lions’ hulking offensive tackle — as an eligible receiver on third-and-7 from the Vikings’ 41.

Sewell came off the line like a man possessed, sprinting toward an open patch of turf a couple yards from scrimmage. Goff tossed a feathered pass to the big man, who reeled it in and got past the marker for a first down. Michael Badgley finished the drive a few snaps later with a game-clinching field goal.

It was clutch. It was gutty. It was beautiful. And it came from the mind of Campbell and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.

Sewell praised Campbell for his confidence and ambition on the play, making comments that sounded eerily similar to Moore’s:

And Campbell made sure to return to the favor: 


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