By JT Bowen
In maybe the most quintessential performance of the Patricia era, the Lions lost their first game of the season against the lowly Bears in a massive collapse, highly reminiscent of last season’s Week 1 stinker.
Both teams got off to a rough start, which was to be expected with a limited offseason and no preseason. It was a field goal competition until the end of the second quarter, with Mitchell Trubisky looking painfully bad and the Lions’ revamped defense only marginally better. After forcing a quick three-and-out with a minute left, things began to pick up for Detroit’s offense, ultimately culminating into rookie D’Andre Swift punching it in from the 1-yard line after an efficient drive by Matthew Stafford, giving the Lions a 13-6 lead heading into the half.
And for a bit, that momentum carried over into the second half, as the offense put together another solid drive resulting in a TJ Hockenson touchdown. Immediately following was a quick and empty drive for the Bears, then a Matt Prater field goal on the subsequent series, good for a 17-point lead nearing the end of the third quarter. For a brief, blissful spell, it appeared as though the Lions had put away an opponent, albeit not the most mighty, with relative ease. Now, all they needed to do was keep their foot on the gas.
I’m sure you know where this is going, and quite frankly, I don’t have it in me to dive into the nitty-gritty of the abominable fourth quarter. It’s depressing to write about, and the lingering disappointment I carry with me for the remainder of most Sundays during football season makes me question the validity of the greater existential impacts that a game as meaningless and stupid as football has on me week in and week out.
Perhaps that sentence, in and of itself, is telling of the never-ending plight of being a Lions fan. It just never ends.
In a concerted effort to avoid wallowing in doom and despair throughout, I’ll toss out a couple ‘bright spots’, if you can call them that, in today’s performance for the Lions. Firstly, the return of Matthew Stafford, within a vacuum, went fairly well. He wasn’t perfect, and the opposing quarterback may have made him look better than he actually was, but #9 looked pretty solid out there. In spite of Kenny Golladay’s absence, Stafford excelled in diversifying his targets, primarily centralizing on Marv, Danny Amendola, and Hock, but getting rookie Quintez Cephus and even Adrian Peterson meaningful touches as well. He had a few boneheaded plays, particularly the awful sack he took from Akiem Hicks, but also the interception (not entirely his fault) and an overthrow on a potential touchdown to Jamal Agnew early on. Of course, it all really boils down to the final score, and even though I would say Stafford threw a game-winning TD on a last-minute drive, he left some points on the table in the first half and partially contributed to the team’s collapse with some empty fourth-quarter drives. Overall, I’d give his performance around a B+.
And on the topic of Stafford, the offense at large was genuinely solid for most of the game. Adrian Peterson, buried beneath the stink, had a quietly-solid debut, totaling over 100 composite yards. The offensive line was borderline awesome, surrendering only a few penalties and allowing only one sack, which was probably more Stafford’s fault than the line’s, and consistently paving holes for AP and the other RBs to run through. Coupled with the absence of starting right tackle Hal Vaitai and the strength of the Bears’ front seven, today’s performance has to be considered an isolated victory for Hank Fraley’s blocking crew, as well as a win for the long-term health of Matt Stafford.
That about sums up the positives from today’s game. Maybe I’m being incessantly pessimistic, but when you lose a game in such soul-crushing fashion, it’s almost warranted to be excessively tough. If you forced me to condense the defensive performance of each half into a singular word, the first would be “sloppy” and the second would be “bad”.
It all began when Jamie Collins made one of the most comically-stupid plays I have seen on an NFL field, headbutting the referee and promptly getting ejected. Though I’m in the camp of people who believe that referees have recently called some soft penalties at too high a rate, and that the Lions are at a greater predisposition to get screwed by bad officiating, you simply cannot do that. Jamie Collins has played for too long and is too talented to make such a foolish move, and it cost the Lions.
The health of the secondary, after just one game, is already a major question mark. Jeff Okudah was a late addition to the injury report this morning, and both Justin Coleman and Desmond Trufant went down during the game and never returned. By the end of the game, Tony McRae and Darryl Roberts were playing important snaps, which undoubtedly played a role in Mitch Trubisky’s late-game heroics. For a position group that has been totally overhauled, the injury bug striking this early in the season is not a good sign.
The rest of the defense didn’t fare much better. There were a couple of decent individual performances, such as Trey Flowers and Tracy Walker, but the run game wasn’t very good against a banged-up David Montgomery, the linebacking was spotty and saved by Trubisky’s routine overthrows, and the Lions struggled to generate consistent pressure save one Trey Flowers strip-sack.
Defensively, the Lions employed a relatively-successful bend-don’t-break mentality in the first half that worked to a degree, mainly thanks to Mitchell Trubisky not being a real NFL quarterback. But once the fourth quarter began, it all started to dissipate. It’s not entirely the defenses’ fault, as the offensive futility kept them on the field, but whatever serum was assisting them in stopping Trubisky and Matt Nagy’s offense for the first three quarters wore off, as they allowed the Bears to rattle off 20 unanswered points in the final period. Certainly not the performance new defensive coordinator Cory Undlin was likely hoping for.
Clearly, the most pivotal and egregious misfortune for Detroit came on the second-to-last play of the game, where after an impressive last-minute drive, rookie D’Andre Swift dropped a game-winning touchdown, an absolute gut punch that basically summed up the Lions’ performance for the day.
I know it’s easy to be mad at the highly-touted rookie--the Lions win this game, albeit in ugly fashion if he catches that ball. It’s an inexcusable error for a player of his caliber, especially for the pass-catching skills that he was so revered for around the draft.
But it’s not entirely his fault. It’s no singular player or even positional group’s fault, and it never has been.
The same goes for Matt Prater. His missed field goal is just about as integral to the defeat as Swift’s, and there is a real case to be made that the Lions win if the rest of the game goes as planned and the Lions kick another easy field goal to win instead of having to score a touchdown. But the blame can’t be pinned, at least entirely, on him.
The team has to be better, front to back, for all four quarters, in each facet of the game. And the culprit for failure in such a broad area is Matt Patricia.
I really hate to do this. Patricia seems like a genuine dude, has always been first to admit his mistakes after a loss, and clearly made genuine attempts to improve himself as both a man and a head coach. But enough is enough.
Patricia’s inability to adapt to a changing league, to tweak his strategy, to disguise his coverages, to treat players with respect (see Slay, Darius or Harrison, Damon), and to win football games has been abundantly clear for some time now. And to continue losing in this fashion, demonstrating both a lack of adaptability and accountability, is not good enough.
After the game, in a postgame presser, Trubisky, and this is broadly paraphrased, basically said that he knew the Lions would be in man coverage. Since that’s all they ever do.
When literally the worst starting quarterback in the NFL is able to easily read your ‘defensive mastermind, former rocket scientist’ coached defense and absolutely decimate it, a glaring problem presents itself.
A problem that’s all too familiar for Lions fans, and one lacking a clear solution.