| Detroit Free Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Matt Patricia has a simple philosophy when it comes to being on the coaching hot seat.
“I go to work every day to try to earn my job,” he said.
After Sunday’s 20-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers, it’s fair to ask whether Patricia has earned the right to stay employed.
The Lions played their worst all-around game of the Patricia era Sunday, losing to a Panthers team that started an XFL refugee at quarterback and totaling a measly 185 yards of offense — their lowest total since Week 1 of the 2010 season, the “process of the catch” game, when Matthew Stafford injured his shoulder in the first half — against a defense that ranked in the bottom third of the NFL by just about every measure.
Losers of three of their last four games, the Lions, who were shut out for the first time since Oct. 18, 2009, are mathematically alive for the postseason with a 4-6 record but realistically headed for an offseason of change.
Patricia is 13-28-1 as head coach and the Lions have lost four games by double digits this season.
They host the Houston Texans in their annual Thanksgiving game Thursday, and whether ownership decides to make a change after that game, heading into a long week, or after the season, it seems clear Patricia’s days are numbered as head coach.
“I think again for us, we kind of just focus one week at a time and all that stuff,” Patricia said. “I’ve had a philosophy for a long time, I go to work every day to try to earn my job. I mean, that’s just what I do. That doesn’t matter if it’s coaching, doing engineering, I don’t care if I’m in school. So, look, I’m just going to go to work and work hard. We all know that. We know we’re in the NFL, and that’s what it is. We got to go do better.”
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The Lions will have to play much better in all three phases than they did Sunday or they risk losing out the season.
Against a Panthers defense that entered the week ranked 22nd in total defense, 23rd in scoring defense and was last in the league in sack percentage and third down defense, the Lions had 89 yards of offense and four first downs in the first half, 40 yards rushing for the game, and did not run a play inside the Carolina 25-yard line all day.
“We just didn’t execute it,” Stafford said. “They were going to play three-down, drop-eight coverages and fire zones until we got them out of it and we never did. So kudos to them for playing well and obviously we didn’t play well enough.”
Stafford, playing with an injured thumb on his throwing hand — “As far as throwing the ball, I felt pretty good,” he said — finished 18 of 33 passing for 178 yards, was sacked five times and was outplayed by surprise Panthers starter P.J. Walker.
Walker, who spent last winter playing for the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL before that league shut down, learned 90 minutes before kickoff he would be making his first career start in place of an injured Teddy Bridgewater.
He completed 24 of 34 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown as the Panthers (4-7) snapped a five-game losing streak.
“We got to play better,” Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. “We know we can. We’ve played better games than that, way better, all three phases, and we got to go out there and just take it personal and just give more effort and just do all the little things right, do your job.”
Mike Davis accounted for the only scoring in the first half, capping a 10-play, 95-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on Carolina’s second offensive possession.
Walker, who was intercepted twice in the end zone, threw his first career touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel early in the third quarter, and the Panthers added field goals on two of their next three possessions to put the game away.
The Lions, who played without starting running back D’Andre Swift and receivers Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola due to injuries, had one legitimate scoring opportunity, when they drove to the Carolina 25-yard line, down 17-0, late in the third quarter.
Stafford was stopped for no gain on a zone-read keeper on the next play, threw incomplete on second down, was sacked for an 8-yard loss on third down and Matt Prater missed a 51-yard field goal.
Stafford said after the game that Sunday’s performance “doesn’t define us as an offense or us a team,” and he insisted players “absolutely” still are responding to Patricia as coach.
“We got enough talent to win,” he said. “We just got to go out there and do it. We got to go out there and play better than we’re playing. I don’t care who you are as a coach, if we don’t go out there and play well, it doesn’t matter. We got to go out there and play better. “