Every time the Detroit Lions have seemed to reach their nadir under coach Matt Patricia, the franchise decides to surprise everyone one more time.
It couldn’t get much worse than Sunday for Detroit, though. Facing a team with a first-year head coach and a first-time NFL starting quarterback that had lost five straight games, the Lions saved their virtuoso poor performance for Carolina.
For the first time since Oct. 18, 2009, Detroit was shut out – losing 20-0 to the Panthers in a game that could have been so much worse had first-time starter and one-time XFL standout P.J. Walker hadn’t had some accuracy issues on throws into the end zone.
There’s bad, then there’s the Lions on Sunday in the first time Matthew Stafford has been shut out as a starter in his NFL career. Carolina had the worst third-down defense in the NFL entering Sunday. The Lions converted just 3 of 14 third downs against the Panthers – many from a reasonable conversion distance – and often looked lifeless doing so. They dropped passes. The sturdy left side of the offensive line collapsed.
The defense -- other than interceptions in the end zone by Amani Oruwariye and Desmond Trufant -- did what Detroit’s defense almost always does. Makes average NFL players look like stars and turns offenses that couldn’t do much – the Panthers were without quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Christian McCaffrey on Sunday – into juggernauts.
All this under a coach in Patricia whose continual presence on the hot seat has enveloped almost his entire tenure. It’s somewhat fitting, perhaps, that the shutout came Sunday, considering the last time it happened was against Green Bay the year after Detroit went 0-16.
The Lions in the last two seasons under Patricia have felt like they’ve been barreling closer to that point than the middle-of-the-NFL respectability they had been in the final years of Jim Schwartz and the majority of the Jim Caldwell tenure.
Sunday just said what it has felt like for so long: The Lions, at the start of this decade, feel close to where they were at the start of the last one, and that is not a good thing.
Not at all.
That leads to the biggest question for the remainder of the Detroit Lions season – how much longer with Patricia be the coach and will the franchise again be looking at a rebuild entering 2021.
Describe the game in two words: Total failure. The offense gained less than 200 yards; the defense continued being atrocious and the special teams remained the most successful and special unit Detroit has.
Biggest hole in the game plan: There were many, many holes in the game plan, but Detroit’s decision to rotate Oruwariye and Jeff Okudah at cornerback is one that looks increasingly poor by the week. While it makes sense to try and find ways to get Okudah, the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft, on the field, sitting him at any point for Oruwariye, who is Detroit’s top corner, is just nonsensical. Oruwariye had an interception, a pass defensed and consistently found his way around the ball. Patricia’s fascination with rotations at positions that usually don’t see them (such as guard last season) never seem to work.
Pivotal play: It was a play that got wiped from the official ledger of the game, but Detroit’s 51-yard flea-flicker touchdown in the third quarter from Stafford to Marvin Jones got wiped off by an illegal formation call on Jones. It could have cut the Carolina lead to one possession at 14-7, but instead became a five-yard penalty and, eventually, a punt on the possession. Detroit’s offense, already stagnant throughout the day, still couldn’t find anything after it, either.