No one knows what to say. Not really.
No one knows how to explain it, except to fall back into the same kind of platitude we heard so often a year ago. And, at this point, listening to Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia try to explain another fourth-quarter loss is almost as painful as the loss.
“We’ve got to coach better,” Patricia said Sunday after his Lions blew a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead. “We’ve got to finish the game better. There’s a lot of areas we’ve got to improve on. We’ve got to take a look at the tape. Certainly, we’ve got to out-execute everyone, at the end especially.”
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How many times did you hear that a year ago? How many times did Patricia say he needed to coach better and that his team needed to execute better?
Too many times.
Yes, Patricia is right. Every coach is right when they say something similar.
The problem is it’s not really saying much. It doesn’t explain why this team is so often on the wrong side of close games. It’s not always talent. That’s for certain. In this league, most of the games come down to a few plays in the fourth quarter.
So, why aren’t the Lions making them?
The answer was easier last season. Matthew Stafford missed eight games. The defense struggled, partly due to injury.
[ Lions grades: Stafford forcing plays, coaching blunders contribute to loss ]
But this season?
Well, it was just one game. There. I said it. Clichéd, but true. The Lions have some pieces. They showed some grit.
And as much as it looked like it always does, as much as it sounded like it always does after the Lions lost to the Bears, 27-23, this year can still be surprising in a good way.
Think about this: If rookie running back DeAndre Swift catches that ball in the end zone with six seconds left in the game, the Lions win. And the narrative is different.
If he catches that ball — and no, the loss isn’t his fault; the team made a handful of mistakes in the fourth — we are talking about the Lions’ mental toughness. About how they opened the season without their best receiver, about how they controlled the first three quarters of the game, built a 17-point lead, slipped up, let the Bears take the lead with less than a minute left, then took the kickoff and scored the winning touchdown.
We are talking about grit.
About Stafford’s evolution and late-game heroics. About a rookie scoring two touchdowns. About the team’s eye for talent trending upward.
Instead, we’re talking about the same old story. Because a rookie dropped a pass.
Now, the schedule gets tougher from here. Next week the Lions play at Green Bay, a team that just hung 43 on the Vikings — at Minnesota. After that, they travel to Arizona to play the Cardinals, who went to San Francisco Sunday and stunned them.
Those two trips are followed by a home date with the Saints, a Super Bowl contender. So, yeah, it doesn’t look good. The season could be done before the leaves turn, and it might.
And yet, if the Lions can win one of the road games and beat the Saints — remember they were a play from beating the Chiefs a year ago at home — they’d be 2-2 with a bit of momentum and a bit more belief. They will have survived a tough first month.
I think it’s too soon to give up, though you have a half-century of history pointing you that way.
Which means you’re probably questioning yourself. In fact, I know you’re questioning yourself. I heard from several of you after the loss.
The last tailgate: What the opener was like minus fans, in and around Ford Field
Many of you had the same question:
“Why do I continue to watch?”
To which I say: “Why did we go to the moon?”
Which is to say: Because it’s out there. Because the Lions are your team. Because as much as you want to give up and save yourself the frustration, you can’t.
Nor should you.
Because the Lions aren’t. Truly, they aren’t.
Which is why Patricia sought out Swift as the team walked up the tunnel, put his arm around him and told him the loss wasn’t his fault, that there would be more opportunity, that he is a great player.
“The game is not on him. It’s on me … ” Patricia said. “We all had opportunities to do a better job and we know that we’ve got to do that going forward. But he’s a great young player, he’s going to be a good player for a long time, he’s going to make a lot of plays.”
No doubt he will. Likely even this season.
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Swift probably isn’t thinking about that right now. He’s probably thinking about the loss. But just as he’s been charged with moving past his drop and moving forward, so now are you.
You have no choice. Unless you want to give in already. And as much as you may want to, you will be back for a few more weeks.
So go for it. Hold out a little hope.
The Lions showed us something Sunday afternoon. At the moment, it’s just not easy to see.