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Bright Future Ahead for Lions and Ravens Despite Heartbreaks and Mistakes: An Analysis

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The Detroit Lions lost their huge halftime lead and the Baltimore Ravens lost both their composure and the football just inches from advancing to Super Bowl 58 next week on the Las Vegas Strip.

Too bad, too, because both teams looked every bit the highrolling risktakers that the betting houses love.

It’ll be the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs instead in a rematch of the Super Bowl four years ago after Lions coach Dan Campbell lost two big gambles by going for it on fourth down in field-goal range and the Ravens frittered away their favorable odds with a series of dubious decisions that led to two end zone turnovers, eight yellow flags and a trio of turnovers to K.C.’s zero.

Those included Lamar Jackson’s throw into triple coverage and rookie Zay Flowers’ fumble at the goal line that followed a boneheaded taunting call after a big catch.

If recent history is any guide, however, one of these runners-up will heed the lessons from all their mistakes, miscues and miscalculations on championship weekend to make it to Super Bowl 59 at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans a year from now.

The 49ers were walloped 31-7 by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC title game last year and reached this year’s Super Bowl with Brock Purdy engineering back-to-back second-half comebacks against the Packers and Lions in the playoffs.

After digging themselves a 24 7 halftime hole Sunday, the Niners scored on each of their first five possessions of the second half to deny the Lions their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

The Chiefs are in their second straight Super Bowl after losing to the Cincinnati Bengals 27-24 in the AFC championship following the 2021 season.

So yes, there’s hope for dispirited Detroit and bummed out Baltimore.

Of course, there’s plenty of examples of conference runners-up who didn’t parlay their breakdowns on championship weekend into a breakthrough the following season.

The Eagles looked like a team ready to atone for its 38-35 loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Super Bowl 57 last year when they raced out to a 10-1 start this season only to lose six of their final seven games in one of the biggest collapses in Philly sports history.

The Bengals lost to K.C. 23-20 in last year’s AFC championship and didn’t even make it back to the playoffs this time around after losing quarterback Joe Burrow to a broken wrist in November.

Neither head coach was hanging his head after their early exits but both realized how hard it will be to get back here, much less get over that huge hump.

“The message is, ‘Eyes straight ahead,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “(Keep) your chin up, your chest out, and understand what you did accomplish.’” He told Jackson to stand tall and he wasn’t about to scapegoat Flowers, who had the best rookie season for a receiver in team history, for his fumble inches from the goal line, either.

“We coach two hands when you reach for the end zone,” Harbaugh said. “He had two hands on the ball.”

As for all the times the Ravens lost their composure like when Flowers followed a long catch with a push, a taunt and a spin of the football on the grass, drawing a 15-yard penalty, Harbaugh declined to comment before he’d had a chance to see the film.

Jackson admired the Chiefs for their paucity of penalties and zero turnovers and suggested that had the Ravens played that way, they might be the ones scrambling to get Super Bowl tickets for family and friends this week.

“We were a game away from the Super Bowl,” Jackson said. “We’ve been waiting all this time, all these moments for an opportunity like this, and we fell short. But I feel like our team is going to build. This offseason, we’re going to get right, get better, grind and try to be in this position again but on the other side of victory.”

The success-starved Lions appeared poised to make their first Super Bowl in franchise history when they took that 17-point halftime lead Sunday only to allow 27 straight points in a mistake-filled second half.

Detroit has a league-high 62 conversions on fourth down in Campbell’s three seasons, but came up short when it mattered most.

Nobody knows if kicker Michael Badgley would have made those kicks from 46 and 48 yards, but we do know this: he’s converted 85% of his field goal attempts from 40-49 yards over his last three seasons.

“I don’t regret those decisions,” insisted Campbell, who has faith they’ll convert it the next time.

Detroit remains the only team to play every season of the Super Bowl era without reaching the ultimate game. This looked as though it could be the breakthrough season to end that drought when Detroit won back-to-back playoff games after winning just one in the previous 56 seasons.

But the Lions must wait at least another year to have a chance at their first NFL championship since 1957.

“You’ve got to get your heart ripped out” sometimes, Campbell said, “which we did. And it’s a lesson learned.”

Still, he knows there are no guarantees and that sometimes second chances just don’t come around.

“I told those guys, this may have been our only shot,” Campbell said. “Do I think that? No. Do I believe that? No. But I know how hard it is to get here. I’m well aware, and it’s going to be twice as hard to get back to this point next year than it was this year. That’s the reality.”

Like Harbaugh does, Campbell trusts that if his team does get another chance, they’ll end up on the winning side next time.

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With contributions from AP Sports Writer Noah Trister and AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL

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