| The Detroit News
Charlotte, N.C. — This was everything wrong about the Lions, every reason this regime must be fired, all stuffed in one tidy package. No energy, no depth, no coaching creativity, no offensive line, no defensive line, no secondary. Did I miss anything? No shot.
Dispirited, disorganized, disgusting. And also, done.
Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn are done, and the Lions played like a team that knows it, succumbing meekly to Carolina and a backup journeyman quarterback 20-0 Sunday. Any kind of a run is a fantasy now, and all that’s left is for owner Sheila Ford Hamp to make the ousters official, at her earliest convenience. Whether it’s today or after Thanksgiving or after the season, it has to happen, the sooner, the more merciful. There’s nothing here worth keeping, and that includes a significant chunk of the roster.
The players were just as dismal as the staff, and it looked like their minds and effort kept wandering. I don’t know if they gave up, but they certainly weren’t fighting to save Patricia’s job. It’s more than a lack of effort; it’s a lack of discipline and talent, which is Quinn’s enduring failure. The Lions allowed backup P.J. Walker, in his first NFL start, to complete 24 of 34 passes — including 10-for-12 in the second half — for 258 yards. The Lions compiled only 185 total yards and Matthew Stafford was sacked five times, while they suffered their first shutout since 2009.
It can’t get any more miserable and embarrassing than this, can it? Well, the Lions (4-6) have six more games to try, with Houston next on Thanksgiving.
At the start of this calendar year, Walker, 25, was playing well for the Houston Roughnecks of the now-defunct XFL. He’d also been cut numerous times by the NFL’s Colts, and had thrown only eight passes in two games with the Panthers. Yet here was Carolina, missing starter Teddy Bridgewater, star running back Christian McCaffrey and two offensive linemen, throwing in Walker to direct an easy victory.
Stafford played with an injured thumb on his throwing hand, but it’s impossible to tell if that was a factor because he spent the game ducking defenders and getting slammed to the ground. The Lions also were missing their best receiver (Kenny Golladay) best running back (D’Andre Swift) and other pieces on defense, but please, this was too definitive for excuses.
The Panthers (4-7) had lost five straight, but even with backups, had more than enough. They played with a feisty spirit for their coach, Matt Rhule, who sprung a series of innovative calls. Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had nothing in response, except for more runs up the middle by Adrian Peterson.
You knew the Lions were in trouble when Walker immediately led Carolina 95 yards on the second drive, highlighted by a 52-yard pass to DJ Moore. On the play, Lions’ first-round pick Jeff Okudah was badly beaten, a troubling pattern that isn’t going away.
“Obviously a very disappointing game, did not go the way we wanted it to,” Patricia said. “In fact, it was just the complete opposite of everything we talked about trying to do.”
Patricia rarely says anything of note, but that snippet said something. The disconnect between staff and players must be enormous, because nothing ever seems to follow the plan. In two-and-a-half seasons, Patricia is 13-28-1, and if Hamp was serious about her demand for meaningful games late in the season, what’s left to see? This has nothing to do with the challenge of the pandemic and injuries, and everything to do with recurring issues.
Asked several times about his job status, and whether he deserves to stay, Patricia stuck to his standard responses, his emotions not wavering, up or down.
“I just kind of focus on one week at a time,” he said. “I’ve had a philosophy for a long time, I go to work every day to try to earn my job. That’s just what I do. Doesn’t matter if it’s coaching or doing engineering. I’m just gonna work hard. We all know we gotta do better.”
It’s borderline insulting that he never offers a deeper explanation, but I suppose there’s not much more he can say. If those are the lines he offers ownership, I don’t see how anyone could buy it.
Quinn and Patricia aren’t bad people, and in different situations with a more-stable organization, perhaps they’d have a shot. But this job — and the history of dysfunction here — has overwhelmed them.
Everywhere you turn, there’s a sign of a glaring mistake by Quinn, followed by a glaring mistake on the field. While Okudah, drafted No. 3 overall, continues to struggle, another potential pick, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, has mostly excelled with the Dolphins although he was benched on Sunday.
Two of Carolina’s recent first-round defensive picks — Brian Burns and Derrick Brown — were passed over by the Lions, and both were forces Sunday. On and on it goes, and where it stops, not even Stafford knows.
He’s in his 12th season and weathers the woes and throws like a professional, but for all his positive statements, he can’t possibly think it’s going to work here. If he’s accepting of his fate, he’s not letting on, and he’s not piling on Patricia at all.
“Coach shows up crazy early, stays crazy late, works his tail off,” Stafford said. “I just continue to work, continue to play. I love playing this game. I like doing it here in Detroit. It’s disappointing to lose, no question, it’s not fun to go out there and lose football games and answer these questions from you guys after a loss.”
Newsflash: It’s not fun to ask them.
Barring some miraculous turnaround, the franchise should be well past the question phase and deep into the action phase. Patricia unfailingly supports his players, at least publicly, and has tried to repair relationships after his rocky debut. I don’t think players have completely given up. I just think they’re never as focused and determined as a team would be if it truly believed in its coach.
For instance, when the Lions tried their own trick play, a flea-flicker from Stafford to Marvin Jones, it worked nicely. The apparent 51-yard touchdown pass would have sliced into Carolina’s 14-0 lead, but the Lions were called for illegal formation and it was nullified. Mental blunder.
Walker even offered up gifts with two bad interceptions in Lions territory but they led to nothing, and the Lions hit the road to nowhere. There’s no evidence this will ever work with Quinn and Patricia, and it’s fruitless and frustrating to keep trying. If ownership didn’t know it was over yet, there’s no denying it now.