For as aggressive as Lions coach Dan Campbell likes to be, he’s also pragmatic.
He realizes that the Lions might not get another chance to play for a berth in the Super Bowl.
“I told those guys, this may have been our only shot,” Campbell told reporters after the game. “Do I think that? No. Do I believe that? No. However, I know how hard it is to get here. I’m well aware. And it’s gonna be twice as hard to get back to this point next year than it was this year. That’s the reality. And if we don’t have the same hunger and the same work — which is a whole ‘nother thing once we get to the offseason — then we got no shot of getting back here.
“I don’t care how much better we get or what we add or what we draft. It’s irrelevant. It’s gonna be tough. Everybody in our division’s gonna be loaded back up. And, you know, you’re not hiding from anybody anymore. Everybody’s gonna want a piece of you. Which is fine, you know. Which is fine.
“So it’s hard. You wanna make the most of every opportunity. And we had an opportunity and we couldn’t close it out.”
He’s absolutely right. Every year, someone on one of the broadcasts declares that the loser of a conference championship will definitely be back next year. And then the next year comes, and that team is sitting at home. (That said, the 49ers made it back this year, and they made it to the next step.)
In any given NFL season, there are too many factors. Too many uncertainties. Too many unknowns. Too many injuries that can happen. Too many weird bounces of the ball that will occur. Too many bad calls that can strike at the worst possible time. Too many decisions that must be made in the blink of an eye that can blow up in your face.
The talent in the league is too even. The teams are packed too tightly together. Getting close to the top of the mountain one year means nothing the next, when everyone is 0-0 again and every team you face will be bringing its A-plus game, because you’re now a measuring stick for other teams trying to get to where you almost were.
It’s enough to make fans start drinking — or stop caring. It’s maddening. It’s frustrating. It’s exhausting. And the later the playoff loss comes, the harder it is for the fans to get over it.
That doesn’t mean the Lions won’t get back to the NFC Championship 31 years faster than they did the last time. But Campbell is right. It won’t be any easier for the Lions.
If anything, and as Campbell said, it will be twice as hard.