Somehow, the Detroit Lions are under the radar midway through the 2023 regular season. Despite having the NFC's second-best record, Dan Campbell's team is barely being talked about from a national standpoint entering Sunday's big road game against the Chargers.
In case you forget, Detroit pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson is here to remind you that the Lions are here, and they don't plan on leaving the stage anytime soon. In fact, if things go the way they hope it will during the second half of the season, the Lions will be playing on pro football's grandest stage, in front of hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide.
"I feel like we're a team that, having not won a playoff game since the '90s, fans would love to see us in the playoffs and win one game," Hutchinson said during a one-on-one interview with CBS Sports. "But when you look at our team and what kind of guys that we have, you're like, this could be our shot.
"I think a lot of guys understand that. I feel like those long playoff runs and potential Super Bowl appearances, those come few and far between. If the opportunity is there, we're going to jump on it."
Hutchinson is right. Detroit has just four games left against teams with winning records. Two of those games are against division rival Minnesota, who made headlines this past Sunday when they defeated the Falcons with recently acquired Josh Dobbs under center. The Lions also have upcoming games against Chicago (2-7), Green Bay (3-5), and Denver (3-5).
Beyond the regular season, the Lions' biggest roadblocks in the NFC are the 49ers and the defending NFC champion Eagles. While both teams present stiff challenges, neither one is unbeatable. Philadelphia ranks just 20th in the NFL this season in points allowed. The 49ers have been battling through injuries and have struggled on pass defense in recent weeks.
The Lions have had their injuries, too, but have been better than most when it comes to responding to them. Despite players like running back David Montgomery and defensive back Brian Branch being sidelined with injuries, other players have stepped up to help the Lions continue their winning ways.
It helps when you have a quarterback-receiver duo like the one the Lions have in Jared Goff and Amon-Ra. St Brown. The team also has good complementary wideouts and a solid offensive line that allows them to beat teams via on the ground or through the air. Defensively, the Lions have been extremely good against he run and getting opposing offenses off the field on third down.
"We can have star players injured here and there, but we have this solid culture and solid foundation of a team," Hutchinson said. "It's kind of plug and play. You throw whoever you've got to throw in there and we're going to find a way to win (regardless of) whoever is in the game.
"That's been huge. Injuries are a part of this game. They have a big factor on each and every game."
It's crazy to think that the Lions were 0-8-1 at this point two years ago in what was Campbell's first year as Detroit's head coach. The Lions won just one of their first seven games last year before Campbell's team won eight of their final 10 games.
The final win, a 20-16 win over the Packers in front a nationally televised audience, was an emphatic statement of the Lions' arrival.
"That was huge," Hutchinson said of that game. "Everybody wrote us off in that game. Everybody was pissed that we had the 'Sunday Night Football' game because Seattle beat the Rams and they kicked us out of the playoffs. We really had nothing to play for, but that just goes to the kind of guys that we've got in the organization and the way that we fight.
"We all just took it as this is our last game, let's just go ball out, end this thing on a good note, get Aaron Rodgers out of the playoffs and move on to next year on a good note.
"I felt like that was the catalyst for us; a Green Bay team that had everything to play for."
The Lions have continued to ball out this season. The current AFC North division leaders went into their bye week with a 6-2 record after posting a 26-14 win over the Raiders. Goff was his typical efficient self, while rookie Jahmyr Gibbs gained a season-high 189 total yards that included 152 on the ground. Defensively, the Lions held the Raiders to just 12 first downs and 157 total yards in what was Josh McDaniels' final game as Las Vegas' coach.
What's the biggest reason for the Lions' turnaround?
"Buy in. Buy in to this culture is at an all-time high right now," Hutchinson replied. "That's the difference between winning and losing games right there. Those couple plays that win and lose games. When you have guys around each other that trust one another, trust the coaches and just believe, there's a different kind of energy."
The team has specifically bought into Campbell, who carved out a 10-year playing career that included a Super Bowl appearance as a member of the 2000 Giants. Hutchinson appreciates Campbell's genuine nature as well as his risk taking attitude when it comes to game day.
"I feel like having an aggressive head coach, going for it on fourth down, this and that," Hutchinson said. "As players, we love that. It really shows trust in our offense when they're going to go for it. In turn, that means that he trusts our defense to get a stop if they don't convert that fourth down. That attribute about him is great from a players perspective."
A former No. 2 pick, Hutchinson's personal goal is to put together a career that is one day good enough to be immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's off to a good start after recording 9.5 sacks and three interceptions as a rookie and 4.5 sacks, one pick, a forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries so far this season.
Hutchinson described the past one-plus years as "whirlwind" given all the success he and the Lions have had over that span. But as fun as that time has been, Hutchinson feels that this is just the beginning for himself and his team.
"I grew up a Lions fan and there are so many people around me who are Lions fans," he said. "You can just feel this energy. You can fell the tides are shifting and they have shifted. We've built this very solid foundation for this organization. I feel like this foundation is going to carry us for the next 15 or 20 years or however long it carries us."
Along with his success with the Lions, Hutchinson has also partnered up with USAA. He recently met up with US Air Force veteran Patrick Fitzhugh to learn more about why it's so important to go beyond this Veteran's Day. He also hopes to raise awareness about what we can do to give veterans a little more this Veterans Day.
"Just encouraging Americans to go beyond thanks," Hutchinson said, "in order to honor veterans, really, just by having deeper conversations."