It’s inescapable, the drumbeat of the Detroit Lions’ history. With each mind-boggling failure, each creative way they find to lose games, the drumbeat drowns out the offseason’s trumpets of optimism.
Lions fans are a scarred bunch, but they let themselves believe, seemingly every offseason, that this is their year. And with nothing feeling normal in 2020, what better year to believe this would be the one things would click for the downtrodden franchise?
And for through three quarters of the season-opener, things were looking good. Of course, there’s always the existential dread the other shoe is going to drop with this team, and drop it did Sunday, as a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead evaporated and the Lions were left stunned, wondering what happened.
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And those fans, who were cautiously optimistic at the start of the day, flooded social media and talk radio lines, banging those drums of history. It’s the only way they know how to react.
Lions coach Matt Patricia, who is really only responsible for the past two seasons, in addition to Sunday’s embarrassing loss, is left to do all he can from allowing that negativity to seep into the team’s facility and into his players’ brains because there are still 15 games left and it’s his job to believe they’ll turn this thing around.
“We make sure that we’re focusing on the guys that are here now,” Patricia said. “There’s a lot of guys here who are in key roles that were not part of last year’s team, so they certainly don’t have that mentality at all. For us, we actually have to make sure it doesn’t creep in. Sometimes maybe you hear it too much from the outside world, then you start to think, ‘Is that the case?’ But it’s not the case for us inside. So right now for us, we have to make sure we understand it was Week 1 and we got to improve Week 2.”
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And for what it’s worth, team captain Taylor Decker implied the attitude in the locker room remains unchanged, despite Sunday’s disappointment.
“No, I don’t see that at all on our team,” Decker said. “At the end of the day, we put ourselves in a position at the end of the game to still go and try and win the game, all mistakes aside. You know, it just comes down to executing play by play by play. We know those games are going to be close, so you never know when that play is going to come up where you can make a big play. It doesn’t come down to one play.”
Of course, Decker is right. A football game isn’t decided by a single play. There were 175 offensive, defensive and special teams snaps that played a role in Sunday’s four-point difference.
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But because games are so routinely close in the NFL, the late-game moments are magnified. The Lions probably aren’t in this position on Monday if Matthew Stafford doesn’t force a pass that’s intercepted, or if Patricia opts to punt the ball away instead of attempting a 55-yard field goal with four minutes remaining, gifting the Bears a short field.
And we’re definitely not here if D’Andre Swift holds on to a pass in the end zone in the closing seconds. But just like the Lions bobbled away the lead, the rookie running back bobbled away the game-winner catch.
And here too Patricia is tasked with making sure the noise of the moment is muted and there’s no carryover damage.
“We can’t do that to a really good, young player,” Patricia said. “I think if anyone tries to do that to a really good, young player, then you run the risk of that guy actually believing that and that’s not the case. He’s a great, young player, and we should all support him, and we should all be behind him.
“I think he’s going to put more on his shoulders and that’s just the way that he is,” Patricia said. “He’s going to take that and say, ‘I should’ve done this.’ But honestly, we should’ve done a lot more as a team. He shouldn’t have even been in that position. He’ll be great. He’s a really, great kid. He’s a good, young player. We’ll just get him back out there. Everyone believes in him.”
Patricia’s post-loss answers are repetitious echos, part of the drumbeat. Admirably, he always points the finger at himself. That’s what good coaches do. But great coaches win and during his time with the Lions, success has been elusive.
Sure, there’s still time to turn things around, starting Sunday in Green Bay. It would be unfair to suggest otherwise. Still, once again, these Lions are going to be forced to reckon with the franchise’s ghosts, as well as their next 15 opponents.