Why next game is critical for Matt Patricia, Lions

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Matt Patricia addressed his players at some point in the past few days and made something clear to them as they transitioned from a blowout loss to the New York Jets to preparation for the San Francisco 49ers.

What happened in his first game as Detroit Lions head coach was not going to fly anymore.

“I think the biggest thing is exactly what I said, which is understand that No. 1, like I expressed to the team, to everybody, we’re not going to accept how we played the other night and we’re going to all get better, you know, and we’re going to move on,” Patricia said. “The best thing that we can do is turn the page and get going on the next opponent and really understand that there is a timeline to every week, unfortunately for us that we have to stay in, in order to have a chance to win or be successful that week.

“If we get that timeline thrown off a little bit, you can get behind, and unfortunately, I think, right now with the Monday night game in general you’re always a little bit behind getting into that next week. You’re going to have a shorter week, so for us it’s really we just have to get back to the grind and stay on top of our preparation.”

While the NFL often works in a week-to-week world, the Lions’ season is already somewhat in question. That’s what happens after a team is blown out by 31 points in the first game. It’s what happens when history says 0-2 teams reaching the playoffs is really difficult: Since 1990, only 8 percent of playoff teams began the year 0-2. And it’s what happens when you bring in a new head coach after firing the last coach, Jim Caldwell, for not being good enough after back-to-back 9-7 seasons and three winning campaigns in four years.

Patricia’s boss, Bob Quinn, was the one who said that when he fired Caldwell on Jan. 1 and then a little over a month later hired Patricia, pinpointing him as the guy he believes could bring Detroit consistent success.

That very well could happen. But the rough opener combined with an unimpressive preseason has led to concerns about how this season could go. Luckily for Patricia, who hasn’t had to go through many of these week-after-blowout losses before, many of his veterans have.

In 2015, Detroit was crushed 42-17 by Arizona in Week 5, leading to the only benching of Matthew Stafford’s career. In Week 8 of that season in London, days after the club fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and replaced him with Jim Bob Cooter, the Lions were annihilated by the Chiefs 45-10. The next week, general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand were fired.

Last season, the Lions were blown out at Baltimore 44-20.

Detroit bounced back and won each of the games that followed those blowout losses. The two in 2015 were over a season into Jim Caldwell’s tenure, coming off a playoff berth, and the Lions showed enough mettle then to help Caldwell keep his job despite a front office change. The last one was with Caldwell’s job under fire, and the Lions won the next week to at least keep his potential future in Detroit alive.

A lot of these Lions were around then. Even those who have left know what Detroit’s talent is capable of.

“I’ve been in a locker room like that, it’s not even a politically correct answer. Sometimes the games just don’t go your way. I know the guys in that locker room and I take nothing away from the guys in that locker room,” said Brandon Copeland, a Jets linebacker who was on the Lions in 2015. “I understand that they’ll come in tomorrow and they’ll be more pissed off and more hungry.

“So I’m not even sure who they have next week, but if I’m that team next week, [San Fran] should be ready because the guys in that locker room that I played with, I know they are going to come out hungry and ready to shut some people up.”

Will the Lions respond like they did under Caldwell in these types of situations? How they respond might say a lot about what will happen in the long term.

A lot of that is going to have to come from Patricia. Detroit looked unprepared against the Jets in Week 1. They were clearly, to use Patricia’s term, “out-executed.” Patricia knows he must coach better for the Lions to beat San Francisco. His players need to play better, too. Even if Detroit doesn’t win, showing it can be competitive on a short week on the road must happen. Another blowout would only raise more questions, more concerns, more doubt.

Of course, there is a chance that no matter what happens Sunday, it won’t matter in the larger context. All the Lions have to do is look toward Patricia’s mentor to understand that a poor start to a first season doesn’t portend bad things for a tenure. Bill Belichick lost his first four games as New England’s head coach in 2000 -- after he replaced Pete Carroll, who had gone 8-8 the year before.

In those losses, though, Belichick’s team never had a defeat like Patricia’s. That 2000 Patriots team lost the first four games by a combined 20 points. Patricia lost his opener by 31.

That's the reason the Lions' play Sunday is so big for Patricia and at least his short-term success with Detroit. A win or competitive loss could be the start of a recovery from a disastrous start. Another poor performance will only bring more questions.