The Detroit Lions’ ‘Patriot Way’ finally saved a game — and maybe a season

Detroit Free Press

Shawn Windsor
 
| Detroit Free Press

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s easy to poke at the Patriot Way when it’s tried outside of New England. Mostly because it rarely works. 

It certainly hasn’t worked in Detroit, where the tandem of Lions general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia spent the last two and a half years trying to import all things New England, only to see their version of the Bill Belichick program end with blown leads and critical errors and lots and lots of losses.   

The problem is you can’t import Belichick. But you can import some of his players, as Quinn and Patricia have.  

[ What Detroit Lions’ Week 3 win over Cardinals means for Matt Patricia’s hot seat ]

On Sunday afternoon at State Farm Stadium, a handful of those players helped lead the Lions to their first official “Patriot’s Way” win. The imprint was unmistakable: 

Confuse the opponent’s offense. Balance your own offense. Give up a few yards. Tighten up near the red zone. Force a few turnovers. Take advantage of the other team’s mistakes. Make fewer mistakes yourself. Stay mentally engaged the entire game. Execute when the game is there to take.  

The Lions did all of that against the previously unbeaten Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. But the performance began last week when the team returned from Green Bay, Wisconsin with an 0-2 record.  

It started with safety Duron Harmon, a former Patriot, who decided that not only did the team need to increase its energy level in practice, but that he and a handful of other veterans on the defense, including another couple of former Patriots, had to increase the intensity in meeting rooms and film sessions. 

Harmon thought the team lost focus and intensity for too many stretches during the first two games. Patricia had said the same thing. But hearing that from teammates is often more effective than hearing it from the coach. 

“I took it amongst myself and the leaders took it amongst ourselves to make sure the energy was there each and every day, to make sure we compete no matter the drill, no matter the situation,” Harmon said Sunday. 

“(In) meetings, (it was a matter of) saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to be better’ (and) telling guys it’s not good enough. (And saying) ‘Hey, I need more from you right there.’ It’s a collective effort,” said Harmon. “(Though I don’t want to) make it seem like it was just me. It was everybody … We knew we could play better.” 

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Harmon teamed with fellow Patriot alums defensive lineman Trey Flowers and linebacker Jamie Collins, with an assist from linebacker Christian Jones and cornerback Desmond Trufant, and patrolled the team’s headquarters like sergeants.  

That might sound cliché, even hollow, after blowing a lead against Chicago in the opener and getting trucked by Green Bay last week, looking forlorn, and sometimes lost in the process. But Harmon didn’t think the level of play met the talent and togetherness he saw during camp. 

“I love the guys in the locker room,” he said.  

And while it has been difficult at times to play the way Patricia wants them to, Harmon noticed the lapses during the first two games weren’t just a matter of absorbing Patricia’s scheme and larger lessons of the Patriot Way. 

Something else was amiss. 

“When we go out there and play in the game, it’s a practice feel to it,” he said. “No fans … you’re out there competing but you’ve got to bring the energy within. I made a conscious effort that I wasn’t going to allow the energy to die throughout practice. Cause I know if (the energy) didn’t die throughout practice it (wouldn’t) die throughout the game.” 

Harmon said the practice intensity changed this week. That it had to. That there was a better team overshadowed by the penalties and breakdowns and mental mistakes. 

“I was just harder on people, you know?” he said. “I just had to let people know this isn’t the preseason anymore.” 

You can argue that the players should understand this on their own. Or that Patricia is ultimately responsible for setting the practice culture during the week and the intensity level on Sundays. 

And you’d be right.  

But even the best teams need voices that aren’t the coaches. And good coaches — and general managers — understand this. 

It’s why Quinn and Patricia wanted players such as Harmon and Flowers and Collins. Because the game isn’t just about talent.  

Until Sunday, it was easy to dismiss this as bloated hooey, easy to poke fun at the New England-Detroit pipeline. The proof was in the record. 

And it’s still in the record.  

Yet for a Sunday afternoon in the desert, against an explosive and improving young team, the Lions looked for all the world like the kind of squad Patricia used to be a part of before he arrived in Detroit.  

The Lions played smart. Made timely plays. Showed calm after mistakes. Stayed focused throughout. It was striking, even startling, and I have no idea whether it will continue. 

Harmon and his teammates think it will. They think they can get a lot better still. 

Should you believe them? Well … no. You’re a Lions fan. 

Then again … you’re a Lions fan, and maybe this team discovered a little something over the last week. Maybe the former Patriots are onto something.  

“We truly believe in the locker room that we have,” said Harmon, who had one interception Sunday and almost another. “This is our first win. We haven’t arrived. We haven’t even come close to being as good as we can. We just have to continue to do what we did last week.” 

The Patriot Way? 

Sure. Why not? 

If we’re going to scoff when it doesn’t work, it’s only fair to tip the cap when it does, even it’s just one game.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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