It’s amazing what a win can do, especially a 31-0 shutout at Lambeau Field. The Lions are now entering the offseason on a bit of a positive note.
They wrapped up their first season under coach Matt Patricia on Sunday with a 6-10 record. After finishing 9-7 a year ago, the 6-10 mark is disappointing.
Patricia’s bunch beat Green Bay twice and also upset the New England Patriots. But consistency was an issue all season — game to game, quarter to quarter and often series to series.
Injuries played a factor too, but every NFL team has to withstand losing players throughout the season.
Next it’s time for evaluation before free agency and the draft where the Lions will have the eighth overall pick.
First, a look at the five key moments of the Lions’ 2018 season:
1. Hiring Matt Patricia who had never been a head coach at any level. This was not unprecedented in the NFL this season. Bears’ coach Matt Nagy and Colts coach Frank Reich were also first-time head coaches, along with Arizona’s Steven Wilks. Nagy turned the Bears around from a 5-11 record in 2017 to win the NFC North (12-4) and Reich took the Colts from 9-7 in 2017 to 10-6 and the playoffs. Wilks was fired on Monday. He took over a 8-8 team and he guided them to a league-worst 3-13 record. Patricia, who is from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, improved the defense, but seemed to have trouble getting the players to buy into his ways early on, starting in training camp.
2. The 48-17 loss to the New York Jets in the season opener dampened enthusiasm for Patricia from the get-go. It wasn’t just a loss, it was a drubbing from a team that would finish the season 4-12. The “new-look” Lions were outscored 41-7 in the second half. The defense allowed 169 rushing yards and 198 passing yards to rookie quarterback Sam Darnold playing in his first NFL regular season game. Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions and one touchdown. It was a brutal, total team loss and a sign of things to come.
3. The 28-14 home loss to the Seahawks in Week 8 may not have seemed huge, but the Lions were 3-3 going into the game and had a chance to get to 4-3. This is a mental game and it could have mattered. The Lions could only manage 34 rushing yards while allowing the Seahawks 176 rushing yards with no run of more than 12 yards. It was the first of three straight losses.
4. Wide receiver Golden Tate was traded on Oct. 30. It appeared to be a sign from GM Bob Quinn that he had given up on the season. Players and coaches say otherwise, but look at the results. The Lions were 3-4 at that point. They hadn’t reached the tipping point. Since Tate was shipped to the Eagles, the Lions were 3-6. It’s odd because every week, Patricia said he is only thinking about the next game. Yet, Quinn traded Tate looking to the future and for a draft pick since this was most likely Tate’s last season with Detroit. One argument is what if Tate was injured and missed the rest of the season? That would have been bad, but the trade sent a message that the season was over. Real or perceived, the message was there. That should have been a factor in making the trade. Talk all you want about the next guy stepping up, the next guy doesn’t possess Tate’s ability to gain yards after the catch or excel in clutch situations.
5. The Thanksgiving 23-16 loss to the Bears was key in knocking the Lions out of the playoff hunt. Detroit was 4-6 going into that day with eight games remaining. Dropping to 4-7, they weren’t mathematically out but might as well have been.
Other key factors:
— Losing 30-27 to the hapless San Francisco 49ers in Week 2 to drop to 0-2. It’s not like the 49ers are a powerhouse — they finished the season at 4-12.
— The 26-10 win over the Patriots was impressive, but the Lions didn’t build on it with losses in four of the next six games.
— The trade for Damon ‘Snacks” Harrison boosted the defense. Snacks proved to be a valuable run stopper, a missing element of the defense. Don’t dismiss the power of a Twix.
— Losing wide Marvin Jones Jr. for final seven games due to a knee injury, the week after Tate was traded.
— Bringing back running back Zach Zenner after his back was healed certainly helped the run game down the stretch. Zenner averaged 4.8 yards per carry (55 for 265 yards) in eight games. He saved the best for last with 13 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s shutout win at Green Bay.