DETROIT (FOX 2) - Dan Campbell said he was trying to keep from buying into the hype. He said in July that he wanted to avoid the hype train as the team was notched by many as NFC North favorites. There's no avoiding it now. Not after the Lions topped the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium 21-20.
First, let's address two things: Yes, the Chiefs were without a key part of both sides of the ball in Travis Kelce and Chris Jones – but they still had reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and future Hall of Fame head coach Andy Reid. Let's be clear: these are the Chiefs. The same Chiefs that have been to five straight AFC Championship games, all at home. The same Chiefs that have been to three of the past four Super Bowls, winning two.
The Chiefs are well-coached and talented.
But Detroit was better. On Thursday night, the Detroit Lions were better in nearly every way than the NFL's reigning champions.
Detroit's improved defense
The Lions walked into the postseason last year and knew they had to address the defense. One game in, it appears they've made major leaps, particularly in the secondary.
At 414 yards per game, the Chiefs had the league's best offense in 2022 - outpacing the rest of the NFL by 14 yards per game. The Lions held them to just 316 with Mahomes going 2⅓9 for 226 yards through the air and a costly interception by rookie Brian Branch.
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - SEPTEMBER 07: Brian Branch #32 of the Detroit Lions intercepts a pass intended for Kadarius Toney #19 of the Kansas City Chiefs for a touchdown in the third quarter at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on September 07, 2023 in K
Branch's first career interception was also a pick-6 as he ran picked off the tipped ball and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown, bringing the Lions back to an even score. That play seemed to ignite the defense, who forced a punt on the next Chiefs' possession and surrendered only two field goals for the rest of the game.
The Lions held Kansas City to just 5-of-14 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth down. The Lions front seven never brought Mahomes down but they had seven QB hits – three by Aidan Hutchinson.
Detroit's offense outpaced Kansas City
The Chiefs offense was the best in 2022 but Detroit wasn't far behind.
Thursday night, the Jared Goff (250) had more passing yards than Mahomes (226) and the running backs had 28 more yards from scrimmage than Kansas City's backs.
While Mahomes threw the pick-6, the Lions had one turnover - a Marvin Jones Jr. fumble - but the defense held strong, forcing a 3-and-out.
This offense wasn't exactly lights out - they only scored two touchdowns on the night - but they were certainly better than Kansas City.
Campbell's coaching decisions
Dan Campbell expects his team to be tough and fight for every yard. So Thursday night didn't reveal anything to him on the season.
"I didn't learn anything, I got verification on what I already knew, and this is a resilient team. It already was a resilient team and we added pieces to that resilient team, so we're built to handle some stuff and we did that today against a very good opponent," he said.
He set the tone early for the game as he opted to go for a fake punt from deep in Lions' territory. With the ball on their own 17-yard-line, the Lions were stuffed on the first three plays of the drive so the special teams trotted out. Nobody saw a fake punt coming - after all, not a single NFL team even tried it last year!
But Campbell wasn't afraid to do it - and it worked.
The Lions went on a 8-minute, 14-play drive to score the first touchdown of the NFL season and lead 7-0. That stunned Chiefs fans and set the tone for the rest of the game. Goff later said that it builds confidence for the entire team.
"It seeps into us and our confidence on the field," he said. "The backed-up fake punt was pretty ballsy, but it worked."
The coaching staff will return to Detroit to prepare for the home opener next weekend and Campbell will surely find holes to fix.
But this opening game confirmed what many experts thought: These are not the Same Old Lions.