By Clark Judge | Sept. 14
One week into the 2018 season, there’s no head coach who needs to win more than Detroit’s Matt Patricia.
The poor guy lost his first game on the job, which doesn’t make him unusual. There wasn’t a first-year head coach who didn’t lose last weekend, and you can look it up. They were a combined 0-7 and outscored 210-117.
But here’s where Patricia is different: Nobody looked worse than Patricia’s Lions.
They were outscored, outplayed and, yes, outcoached by the New York Jets in a resounding 48-17 beat-down that resonated so deeply in Motown that, one game into the season, the Detroit Free Press was declaring Patricia “in over his head.”
Okay, so that’s a bit premature.
But let’s be honest: His team stunk. Quarterback Matt Stafford threw four interceptions. A defense that began by scoring on its first snap later cratered, turning Jets’ rookie Sam Darnold into Sam Goody. And let’s not forget the special teams, where kicker Matt Prater missed two field goals and the Jets’ Andre Roberts returned three punts for 137 yards — including a 78-yard TD — and two kickoffs for 45.
All in all, a complete team effort.
Now, in the wake of that meltdown, we have reports that Lions veterans aren’t happy with Patricia’s rigid rules and long practices, and, okay, so that’s nothing new. I remember similar complaints out of the St. Louis Rams’ camp shortly after Dick Vermeil took over, yet within three seasons they were in their first Super Bowl in two decades.
And then there was Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants, who groused about his rules and inflexibility until they reached Super Bowl XLII. Then they wanted to canonize the guy.
But Patricia’s situation is more complicated. First of all, he took over a team that was 9-7 a year ago and missed the playoffs by one game. So this isn’t exactly the raising of the Titanic.
Second, he’s supposed to be a defensive Einstein who, with a wave of that pencil tucked behind his ear can somehow turn the league’s 27th-ranked defense a year ago into Hadrian’s Wall. He did it in New England, where the Patriots ranked 29th overall a year ago but sixth in points allowed and went to their second straight Super Bowl and third in four years.
‘So why not here?
Third, and most important, he brings the Patriots’ Way to a city where the Super Bowl is something you host, not something that includes your football team. But Patricia would change all that because … well, because he’s been to so many Super Bowls he knows exactly what it takes to get there.
At least that was the plan.
But the reality is that the Patriots’ Way is Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and if you don’t have either you’re not going to Super Bowls. That’s been demonstrated again and again, from Charlie Weis to Romeo Crennel to Eric Mangini to Josh McDaniels. All were coordinators in New England, and all fizzled as head coaches — with a combined NFL record of 72-117 and one playoff appearance (Mangini in 2006).
Granted, former Patriots assistant Bill O’Brien has had success in Houston, where he’s in his fifth season as head coach and been to the playoffs twice. But he’s also 31-34 overall and has never won a postseason contest.
Nevertheless, the Lions believed Patricia would be different … and maybe he will. But I’ve seen this act before in Detroit when former GM Matt Millen wanted to hire Steve Mariucci away from San Francisco but couldn’t. So he did the next best thing and hired Mariucci’s system, bringing in Marty Mornhinweg, and you saw how that worked out.
Look, Matt Patricia may end up being successful. When rookie head coach Bobby Ross in 1992 lost his first four games in San Diego, the Los Angeles Times declared him in over his head, too. Then he won 11 of the next 12 and took the Chargers to the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Two years later, they were in their firs, and only, Super Bowl.
So it can happen.
But history, Patricia’s first game as a head coach and a raft of cynics are against him. And I get it. It’s not as if the Lions were embarrassed by Aaron Rodgers or the Eagles. They were obliterated by a Jets’ team coming off consecutive 5-11 finishes, starting a rookie quarterback and under orders to win now … or else.
But that’s just the beginning, people. Their 48 points were the most scored on the road in franchise history, besting the 47 they scored in 1968 over the Boston Patriots. Plus, the Jets’ defensive TD was their first in 74 games, breaking the longest scoreless streak in NFL history. Moreover, defensive players later said they knew what the Lions were calling before the plays were run.
And the 31-point shredding? It was the worst by a head coach in his NFL debut since the Raiders’ Tom Cable lost by 31 to New Orleans in 2008. Oakland finished 5-11 that season.
“We’ve only played one game,” cautioned Lions’ GM Bob Quinn.
But that’s the problem. There are 15 more, beginning with San Francisco this weekend and New England the next, and, hard to imagine, but … it could get worse.
Matt Patricia, good luck. You’re going to need it. Now more than ever.