The string of mistakes the Detroit Lions made at the end of Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Chicago Bears was easy to see.
“I think we understand the plays that happened at the end of the game that we’ve got to do a better job of,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said.
That’s why the Lions spent the bulk of their day-after film session Monday focused on mistakes in the first three quarters that were easier to overlook, rather than the needless sack and missed field goal; the forced interception and the careless offsides penalty that doomed their chances late in the fourth quarter,
“The first three quarters we’ve certainly got to put ourselves in a better position to not leave that door open at the end,” Patricia said. “Even if it’s cracked just a little bit in the NFL, we certainly understand the things that turn a game.”
The Lions led 23-6 early in the fourth quarter, before Chicago scored 21 unanswered points to win, 27-23. Running back Adrian Peterson said Detroit could have been “up by 30 points easily” had it made the most of early scoring chances.
The Lions went three-and-out on three of their first five possessions and settled for field goals on two other drives that stalled in the red zone.
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On their first field-goal drive, rookie wide receiver Quintez Cephus dropped a crossing pass on second-and-8 from the 9, then had his route disrupted in the end zone when quarterback Matthew Stafford threw incomplete on third down.
In the second quarter, Peterson had two red zone carries for 2 yards, and the Lions couldn’t convert a third-and-8 from the 14.
Later in the game, but before their meltdown, Patricia said the Lions squandered opportunities to shorten the game by converting third downs, too.
“I think for us, just to understand opportunities that we have — whether it’s down in the red area where we’ve go to capitalize there, whether it’s third down plays that maybe we’ve got to stop them, early-down run game and how that affects control of the game, things like that,” Patricia said. “There’s some plays in there that I think we really could have changed maybe the scenarios at the end of the game and some of the, call it two-minute to four-minute back-and-forth situations that we were in … So some of those plays that I think are really important to capitalize on so that you don’t have to be in those constant back-and-forth situations in the end.”
The Lions have not fared well in those situations under Patricia, blowing fourth-quarter leads in 11 of 33 games, according to research by ESPN.
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Left tackle Taylor Decker, who’s played in all 11 of those losses, said he does not have a good explanation for why the Lions have struggled to close out games.
“Our big thing has been to try to finish and coming down the stretch. We had opportunities to put the game away as an offense and we just need to finish,” he said. “I mean, that’s all it can come down to, us an offense, because I think in our first eight drives we scored on five of them and then down the stretch we just didn’t put the game away and that’s what we have to do.”
Decker said he does not believe the team has a late-game mental block, and Patricia discounted that, too, citing roster turnover as proof.
“There’s a lot of guys here that are in key roles that were not part of last year’s team, so they certainly don’t have that mentality at all,” he said. “And for us, we’ve got to actually 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 we’ve got to make sure we just understand it was Week 1 and we’ve got to improve Week 2.”
While Jamie Collins showed no malice in hitting referee Alex Kemp with his helmet Sunday — a move that got him ejected from his first game as a Lion — Patricia said he spoke with Collins and the team “at length” Monday and reminded them they cannot contact officials.
“I think the bottom line is there’s rules in place for a reason, and it’s to protect everyone that’s out on the field, including the officials, and everybody knows that,” Patricia said. “Whether it’s an honest mistake or not, you just can’t do that and that’s the bottom line.”
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.