Lions won’t have an easy road in 2024. But Ben Johnson’s return helps a great deal

After the NFC Championship Game loss in Santa Clara, Calif., Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell was realistic as he addressed his team. No team is the same year to year. The 2023 iteration of the Detroit Lions that shattered records and made history as the first team to host a playoff game in Ford Field would start over at 0-0 in 2024. The schedule, opponents, even the division — they are all due to get tougher.

“I told those guys, ‘This may have been our only shot,'” he said after the game. “Do I think that? No. Do I believe that? No. However, I know how hard it is to get here. It’ll be twice as hard to get back to this point.”

But maybe not as hard as initially thought.

Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson had been on the shortlist for head-coaching opportunities not only in this coaching cycle, but last year, too. Johnson had multiple interviews last offseason after the Lions just barely missed the playoffs. This year, after coaching the league’s third-best offense by total yardage, he had even more interview requests. It was a foregone conclusion that Johnson would be leaving the Lions for a step up in responsibility and an enormous payday.

Every team with a head coaching vacancy except the Las Vegas Raiders requested an interview with Johnson. Two teams had not yet filled their head-coach opening by the time Detroit’s season ended: the Washington Commanders and Seattle Seahawks.

Turns out, it was going to take a lot to pry him away from Detroit. He informed both teams he would be staying.

The Lions have been the feel-good story of the season with the culture both Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes instilled. The team perfectly embodies the city and Detroit has embraced them with open arms. The Lions are a team this success-starved football city can finally believe in.

The Lions also have an incredibly young and exciting offensive core featuring players like tight end Sam LaPorta and running back Jahmyr Gibbs, both rookies and both now Pro Bowl selections. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is quietly one of the most productive receivers in the NFL. Holmes spent time and effort curating one of the best offensive lines in football, led by Penei Sewell, who may be the league’s best left tackle. 

Then there’s quarterback Jared Goff, whose game has ascended over the last few years. Under Johnson’s tutelage, Goff had arguably the best season of his career, throwing for 4,575 yards and 30 touchdowns while posting the best completion rate of his career at 67.3%. 

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The Lions will now have more continuity going into the 2024 season. Their division should be more competitive with the emergence of the Love-led Green Bay Packers and the emerging Minnesota Vikings defense. Depending on what the Chicago Bears decide to do at quarterback, they could also be in contention. 

Johnson is just 37 years old and expected to be part of next year’s coaching cycle. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be on shortlists yet again.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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