Matt Patricia is a private man, especially when it comes to his family, but when he started off his postgame news conference Thursday by thanking his wife for all she does “behind the scenes” and saying how “appreciative” he is for his family, it was reminiscent of the final weeks of Jim Caldwell’s tenure as Detroit Lions coach, when he often had his grandkids in tow.
Caldwell knew then what Patricia has to know now – his time as Lions coach is down to weeks if not days after another lopsided loss, 41-25, to the Houston Texans on Thursday.
Deshaun Watson threw four touchdown passes and had a near-perfect quarterback rating, and the Lions committed three first half turnovers as they suffered their worst Thanksgiving Day loss since a 45-24 pounding by the New England Patriots in 2010.
The Lions (4-7) have lost four of their past five games, all by double digits, and are in last place in the NFC North.
With 10 days until their next game, general manager Bob Quinn – or owner Sheila Ford Hamp – must decide whether to bring Patricia back for the final five games of this disappointing year.
Patricia declined to say Thursday when or if he will meet with Quinn or Hamp this weekend, and said his only concern is his team.
“It’s the same as always for me,” Patricia said. “My focus every day is on the guys in that locker room and working as hard as I can to help those guys be successful. It’s really not outside of that. I don’t think outside of that, I don’t worry outside of that other than just trying to do the best job I can every day to help everybody be successful and try to get our team going. So other than that, we play pretty short term and are pretty focused on the task at hand. So that’s kind of where we stay with it.”
The Lions are 13-29-1 under Patricia, a .314 winning percentage, and have looked non-competitive in many of their games. Five of their seven losses have been by double digits, and Thursday’s embarrassment played out on national television.
They turned the ball over three times in an eight-play span in the first half and allowed a late touchdown on a 34-yard trick play throwback from Watson to Will Fuller.
Hamp has not spoken publicly since taking the ownership reigns from her mother, Martha Firestone Ford, in June. At the time, she said Patricia and Quinn, in his fifth season as GM, needed to show “major improvement” from last year’s 3-12-1 record in order to return for 2021.
While the playoffs are still a mathematical possibility, “major improvement” seems like an impossible bar to reach now.
The Lions went 3-4 in a just-completed stretch where they played six teams with sub-.500 records in a seven-game span, and their next four opponents are playoff contenders.
“I’m not going to comment on somebody else’s job,” tight end T.J. Hockenson said. “I’m just here to do mine, obviously. Matt Patricia gave me a chance to come into this organization, so for that, I owe him. Obviously, that’s up to the front office – all that other stuff. You guys can talk about that, but he’s still my head coach. He’s still my head coach. If he’s not, he’s still the guy that gave me an opportunity to be a Detroit Lion, so for that, I’ll forever be grateful.”
The Lions last fired a coach during the season in 2005, when Matt Millen fired Steve Mariucci days after a Thanksgiving loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
In the 15 years since, they have had four winning seasons, made the playoffs three times and cycled through four permanent head coaches, including Patricia.
Asked if he expects to be Lions coach for next week’s game against the Chicago Bears, Patricia said, “Again, I focus on one day at a time. That hasn’t changed. So we’ll focus on today and go from there.”
On Thursday, Watson turned in a dominant performance against a shorthanded Lions defense that played without cornerback Jeff Okudah and defensive linemen Trey Flowers and Da’Shawn Hand, and lost cornerback Desmond Trufant to a hamstring injury in the first half.
Watson finished 17 of 25 passing for 318 yards and had a 150.4 rating, the third highest of his career.
The Lions opened the scoring with a 1-yard run by Adrian Peterson, then turned the ball over on three straight possessions against a Houston defense that entered with an NFL-worst five takeaways in its first 10 games.
Matthew Stafford started the comedy of errors with a careless interception on a swing pass to Peterson that J.J. Watt tipped to himself and returned 19 yards for a touchdown. Jonathan Williams fumbled on the Lions’ next play from scrimmage, on his first carry of the season, to set up Houston’s second offensive touchdown, and Kerryon Johnson lost a fumble deep in Texans territory on the Lions’ next series.
“You watch this game, you seen we stopped ourselves,” Peterson said. “We just got to do better. The running back group, and there’s no one that’s hurting more than J-Will and Kerryon right now, not only because putting the ball on the turf but it was critical situations. At least field goals, we (could have had on those possessions).”
The Lions’ issues went beyond the turnovers.
After taking a 14-13 lead early in the second quarter, Jack Fox sent a kickoff out of bounds to give Houston the ball at the 40-yard line. The Texans capitalized on the favorable field position five plays later, when Duke Johnson beat Jamie Collins for an easy 33-yard touchdown, and led 23-14 at halftime.
Fuller torched the Lions secondary for six catches, 171 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which came on that throwback flea flicker with 10:07 to play.
Stafford finished 28 of 41 passing for 295 yards and one touchdown, to Mohamed Sanu, with 6:32 left and the game out of reach, and Peterson ran for two touchdowns and 55 yards, his most since Week 3, for the Lions.
After the game, Peterson said he does not see similarities between the Lions now and Washington last year, when Washington fired head coach Jay Gruden early in the season. Stafford declined to wade into the head coach debate.
“It’s not my decision,” Stafford said. “That’s for somebody else. If you want to ask me about the game, you ask me about the game. “