Lions Matt Patricia: We’ve got 2 things, the game and each other

ALLEN PARK — Matt Patricia is not looking big-picture.

The Lions have lost six straight, compiled a 3-9-1 record and are 0-5 in the NFC North.

Instead the Lions coach is focused on Sunday’s opponent, the Tampa Bay Bucs (6-7).

“We talk a lot about purpose .. I think the best thing for us as a team and what we told them is the two things we’ve got right now, we’ve got the game and each other. So that’s what we’re focused on, we’re focused on the game and on each other,’’ Patricia said on Monday, following the 20-7 loss at the Vikings.

So while scores of Detroiters wonder about next season — will Patricia and GM Bob Quinn be back — that is not a conversation Patricia can be pulled into. He was asked if he had discussed his future with ownership and declined (like he always does) to go into detail about discussions with the Ford family.

“I’m trying to do everything I can to coach as hard as I can for the guys in that room, those guys work really hard, they’re trying to do everything they can, they’re competitive, they’re fun to coach,’’ Patricia said. “We just have to go out and execute better and do things better on Sundays.’’

Like any good coach in a bad situation, the focus remains on winning and not on draft position.

“I mean that’s the goal for us, we’re always trying to win, I think it feels good to win, that’s what we’re trying to do, go out there,” Patricia said. “We want to feel good about it, we want the fans to feel good about it and certainly that’s our motivation is to go out and win and really play well in all three phases and show the stuff that we’re seeing and try to do it consistently.’’

 

Lions lose sixth straight, a look at five reasons why it happened

Minnesota Vikings win 20-7

In the first dozen games, at least the Lions had a chance. They only won three of them, but they held leads in all 12.

As former Lions coach Wayne Fontes would say, “At least we’ve got that going for us.”

Well, not so much on Sunday in the 20-7 loss to the Vikings at Minnesota.

A pre-game photo showed owner Martha Ford Firestone on the sidelines prior to the game with a grim look on her face and her arms folded. Her body language screamed displeasure. Can’t imagine what she was thinking when the clock ran out and the dust settled.

Not sure that wholesale changes in the staff would be the cure-all especially at this point with just three games left in the season.

But if Mrs. Ford was thinking about the immediate futures of coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn, certainly Sunday’s performance (or lack of it) could help shape her decision.

The Lions lost their sixth straight, fell to 3-9-1 and are now 0-5 in NFC North contests.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. David Blough looked more like a rookie quarterback in this game than he did during his first start on Thanksgiving in the loss to the Bears. He was 24-40 for 205 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Look, this loss is not all on him but he made a few mistakes that were costly. Late in the first half, instead of throwing the ball away on third-and-2 from Minnesota’s 15, he was sacked for a loss of 12 yards. That pushed the field goal attempt to 45 yards instead of 33. Matt Prater kicked it wide right. No word on when or if Matthew Stafford will return this season. 

2. The defense could have been worse, but Kirk Cousins was 12 of 12 for 114 yards and a touchdown on play-action in the first half. This has been an issue with Detroit’s defense all season. Cousins completed 80 percent of his passes (24-30) for 242 yards and one touchdown.The Vikings finished with 354 total yards while the Lions had 231. On a positive note, the Lions’ defense held the Vikings to just 3 second-half points. 

3. Blough was sacked five times, three of them by Danielle Hunter. The fault lies in three places – the offensive line, tight ends (particularly Jesse James on one of the Hunter sacks) and Blough for holding the ball too long. It was a good day for the sack-happy Vikings’ defense. Trey Flowers had Detroit’s only sack. 

4. Coaching. Matt Patricia will take some of the blame, he always does. This team didn’t look prepared to start the game. That’s on coaching. The Lions looked a little better in the second half on both sides of the ball, but obviously it was not enough.

5. The Lions are dealing with injuries. Matthew Stafford’s absence is key, but the defense is hurting (literally) too. A’Shawn Robinson did not play, Jarrad Davis was among those injured during the game. Still, it’s that time of year in the NFL. Injuries are an issue for most NFL teams – dealing with them separates the losers from the winners.

BONUS: Lions now hold the fifth pick in the NFL draft.

NEXT UP: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

 

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Minnesota Vikings

ALLEN PARK — Focus is key in this late-season NFC North contest between the LIons and the Minnesota Vikings.

The Lions (3-8-1) are out of the playoffs heading to Minnesota where the Vikings (8-4) are still trying to scrap together meaningful wins.

“I think for all of us we know how important the division is, that’s the first and foremost, but within each week that game is the most important. It’s a critical game because it’s our next game,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “That’s certainly how we approach it and things for next year always change. You can’t predict what’s going to happen as far as next year is concerned, from your team to other teams and across the League. What’s most important for us is this week.”

The Vikings won the first matchup, 42-30, on Oct. 20. After a tie at half-time, Detroit was outscored 21-9 in the second half.

Minnesota owns just a 1-2 record in the NFC North which is better than Detroit’s 0-4 mark.

Minnesota is coming off a loss at Seattle on Monday night. Coach Mike Zimmer is not afraid of losing focus because they’re facing a team that has lost five straight. 

“I don’t think so. It’s a division game, it’s important to us. We lost last week. We have to win games, and we have to go out and execute and do the things we have to do to win games,’’ Zimmer said on a conference call. “Trust me, we have all the respect in the world for the Lions and what they’re able to do and the players that they have.”

Five things to watch: 

1. The Lions defense has shown some improvement against the run in recent weeks. They need to maintain that against Vikings running back Dalvin Cook who gashed the Lions for 142 yards in their first meeting.  Cook has been injured but is expected to play.

2. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been dangerous this season with 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He’s thrown just two picks in the last 10 games. In the first game, he threw four touchdown passes against the Lions’ defense. “I would say they’re doing a great job of calling plays that fit right into his strong points,’’ Patricia said. “Obviously, the run game sets up a lot for the play-action, and the move out of the pocket sort of plays that they’re able to kind of get him out there and get him in space.’’

3. Protect quarterback David Blough in his second start. Even though the Lions lost to the Bears, the rookie was impressive in his debut on Thanksgiving. Stafford was sacked twice by the Vikings in their first meeting, both coming in the second half.

4. Let Bo Scarbrough run. The running back, who kind of came out of nowhere and has averaged 4.5 yards per carry with 53 touches for 236 yards in three games. Against Chicago, in key situations Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic got the ball when it was Scarbrough who was having success.

5. It’s up to Patricia to keep the team pumped up the rest of the season. It might be even tougher going into a tough environment like U.S. Bank Stadium where the Vikings are 5-0. The Lions are 1-4-1 on the road. 

PREDICTION:  Vikings 40, Lions 24

Lions notes: Door remains open for Matthew Stafford to return this season

ALLEN PARK — Matthew Stafford has missed four straight games and coach Matt Patricia said on Monday that he is still week to week with his back injury. 

Even though the Lions have played their way out of the playoffs, that doesn’t mean the Stafford won’t be back. 

Out of respect for Matthew and his competitiveness and what he means to this team and what he brings every single week, we’re just going to kind of take it week-by-week and see what happens from that standpoint,’’ Patricia said.

Stafford loves the game of football, he says it often and it’s genuine. He works hard year-round for a chance to play the games. He told the media weeks ago he realizes every time he takes the field he risks injury. Doesn’t matter, it’s the game he loves. 

Even though he is not able to participate in practice or in games, Stafford remains a factor in helping prepare the young quarterbacks, Jeff Driskel (who has been placed on injured reserve) and David Blough (who started his first game on Thanksgiving).

“I think he’s done a great job go all the way back to when we first started in the spring and him being here with the offseason stuff he had going on, he was really committed to the team,’’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said on Monday. “Now that he’s had this injury and it’s pushed him back again — he’s been here all the time, he’s been in the quarterback room going through the same preparation as if he was playing then helping those younger guys. If you ask Jeff and Dave they’ll tell you how helpful he’s been, he’s in their ear on the sideline, he’s looking through the pictures with them giving them extra coaching points, he’s doing a good job staying engaged.’’

The Lions will likely respect his wishes and let him play again this season but only if he is cleared by the medical staff. At least for now, they’ve left that door open.

Stafford had been playing extremely well even if the team was not making the most of it and winning. In eight games he has thrown for 2,499 yards, 19 touchdowns with just five interceptions. 

FLOWERS SACKS: Trey Flowers has been red-hot with five sacks in the Lions’ last five games (all losses). He’s got six for the season, just 1.5 shy of his career high (7.5) last season with the Patriots. Flowers doesn’t necessarily grade himself by statistics. “I’m very critical of myself and as far as, first of all, if we don’t get the win really nothing else matters. So if I don’t do enough for us to win, then I didn’t do enough to win,’’ Flowers said.

He played the his first four NFL seasons for the Patriots who were 50-14 in the regular season in that stretch. So playing for the Lions (3-8-1) is quite a change.

“It has been frustrating to come in work hard, work hard on the game plan, a lot of guys are working hard in the locker room and to come up short on the weekends is definitely frustrating,’’ Flowers said. “That’s part of this game, you’ve got to find ways to out-execute and out-compete.’’

SEASON OVER: Tight end T.J. Hockenson was placed on injured reserve due to the ankle injury he suffered late in the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Bears. Hockenson, the Lions’ first-round pick, ended the season with 32 receptions for 367 yards and two touchdowns. His first game, the season opener, was his best. That day he had six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. Patricia said it’s not known if Hockenson will need surgery on his ankle.

ADJUSTMENTS: With high-tech notebooks on the sidelines during games, adjustments are made continuously, but halftime adjustments are still key at least to some coaches. ESPN’s Dianna Rossini tweeted about Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s adjustments in Pittsburgh’s win over the Browns.

She wrote: “Spoke to Steeler players about Mike Tomlin. Players on defense pointed to the adjustments made at half. They said he ‘straight up went high school football coach and drew up how they were going to defend Cleveland’ since they Browns showing a different look. ‘He saved the game.’’’

When Patricia was asked about making adjustments on Monday, he said, “I think the in-game adjustments are something that’s critical for us. I think there are games where those have been done at a high level and probably some games that we go back and we look at and say, ‘Of course we should have done this or maybe made this change.’’’

The Lions have led in all 12 of their games at some point, but have only held on for three wins.

 

Detroit Lions defense falters again in Thanksgiving loss to Bears

DETROIT — David Blough, the Detroit Lions’ third-string quarterback played beyond most expectations but once again Detroit’s defense came up short.

Blough, in for the injured Jeff Driskel, threw touchdown passes on his first two drives to give the Lions a one-touchdown lead.

Still the Bears came back and beat the Lions, 24-20, on Thanksgiving at Ford Field.

Coach Matt Patricia said he loves the fight he sees in his bunch and their toughness, but it is not enough.

“This is one of the toughest teams I’ve probably ever been around, this team fights like no other team I’ve ever seen we have to find a way to win, we have to find a way to break through that thing that’s stopping us right now and smash that and get going,’’ Patricia said. “… Obviously the goal is to win and that’s what we have to get done and we will, we’re building toward that and working toward that every single day.’’

The Lions have lost five straight, eight of their last nine, are 3-8-1 and are officially out of playoff contention.

“I think a lot of it is obviously the tangible thing is the mistakes in the game that we have to eliminate, we have to push through and make a couple more plays or coach a couple things better, get that cleaned up,’’ Patricia said.

Safety Tracy Walker said Patricia’s message to the team was that they can’t settle for losses. “So we are just going to continue to try to improve and continue to correct the mistakes we made,’’ Walker said.

The Lions were up 17-10 at the half, but the Bears scored touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters. On the first Mitchell Trubisky passed 18 yards  to tight end Jesper Horsted for the score. It was just Horsted’s second catch all season and his first touchdown. Will Harris was on the coverage.

With 6:40 left in the game, and the Lions leading 20-17, the Bears’ 90-yard touchdown drive included passses of 35 and 32 yards to Anthony Miller, it was capped with a 3-yard touchdown pass to David Montgomery. 

That gave the Bears a 24-20 lead. 

Blough and the Lions’ offense had 2:12 left but couldn’t get the ball in the end zone.

Trubisky has struggled much of the season except in the two wins against the Lions. He’s thrown 13 touchdown passes all season, six of them against the Detroit defense including three on Thanksgiving.

He wasn’t pressure much all day.

“He was throwing the ball fairly fast, got rid of the ball. They out-executed (us) on a lot of different things like that. We just weren’t able to bring him down a lot of times,’’ defensive end Trey Flowers said. “He’s definitely a guy that’s dynamic with his feet, so he’s able to make a few plays, escape the pocket and continue to scramble.”

Flowers sacked Trubisky on a third-and-7 early in the fourth for a loss of 7 yards forcing the Bears to punt.

Chicago had a better second half which has been the case most of the season with Lions’ opponents. Detroit has been outscored 105-70 in the fourth quarter. 

“The quarterback kind of extended a lot of plays and made a lot of plays on the run. We have to do better in the back end, extending plays, finding our guys, plastering around,’’ said cornerback Darius Slay who intercepted Trubisky. “What they did was extend plays, and they overall just were controlling the game almost.”

Lions backup David Blough will start against Bears on Thanksgiving

ALLEN PARK — Lions backup quarterback Jeff Driskel seemed optimistic on Tuesday that he would start against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving. However, his hamstring will keep him out of the starting role.

David Blough, a rookie who has never played in an NFL regular season game, will get the start for the Lions at Ford Field.

Blough, who played at Purdue, was signed as an undrafted free agent last June by the Cleveland Browns and then was traded to Detroit. Driskel is expected to serve as the backup. Matthew Stafford (back) will miss his fourth straight game.

Thanksgiving spirits might not be so bright since the Lions (3-7-1) have lost four straight and seven of their last eight. They’ll face the Chicago Bears (5-6) for the second straight year 

Ready or not, they’ll be the only NFL game on national TV at 12:30 p.m.

For us, we’re going to obviously try and go out and play as hard as we can. We know how important this game is, we know how important it is to our organization, our ownership and obviously the fans,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “It’s a great privilege to be in this game. For us, we understand that, we’re very blessed to be here, I think Thanksgiving is a great time, a great week to reflect.’’

Five things to watch:

1. Certainly don’t know what to expect from Blough, although seems likely the run game will need to carry the offense. 

2. Running back Bo Scarbrough has been the highlight of the past two weeks. From the practice squad two weeks ago he has had games of 55 and 98 rushing yards. Although now defenses know to prepare for him. “It’s kind of why you just hesitate to have too many conversations about those guys and not help opponents figure out who they are ahead of time. You try to let the opponents figure it out on their own. Certainly, I think you watch Bo run and some of the things that he did last week, he’s running really hard,’’ Patricia said. The big back (6-foot-1, 235 pounds) has five more games to prove himself. He could be the answer to the question of who will back up Kerryon Johnson next season. 

3. Lions linebacker Devon Kennard thinks the defense is showing signs of improvement in recent weeks (despite four straight losses), especially against the run. But overall the defense has been ineffective and is a big reason the Lions have lost seven of the last eight. If they are close to turning it around, Thanksgiving would be a good start especially with Blough starting at quarterback.

4. Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky leads the NFL’s 29th best offense averaging just 269.3 yards per game. The quarterback has thrown just 10 touchdown passes in 10 games and three of them were in the first matchup with the Lions — one each to Ben Braunecker, Tarik Cohen and Taylor Gabriel. He was sacked five times by the Lions in that game — perhaps a little more of that type of pressure could be applied.

5. Patricia and the players have talked a good game this week. They say they’re focused solely on the Bears and they take the season one game at a time. There’s been a lot of talk in Detroit from fans who are beyond frustrated at the lack of wins. Some of them want Patricia and/or GM Bob Quinn fired. Fans didn’t seem to expect that the Lions, who were 9-7 in 2017, would fall so low in an effort to rebuild. On Thursday at Ford Field, the team has to show the focus they discuss and they need to do it in all four quarters.

PREDICTION: Bears 23, Lions 10. Not sure the Lions can pull it together.

(Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

Lions LB Devon Kennard believes in Matt Patricia and the process, despite results

ALLEN PARK — Devon Kennard doesn’t listen to all the “noise” in this town concerning the 3-7-1 Lions, their coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn.

The volume was cranked up after the Lions lost to the lowly Washington Redskins on Sunday, still Kennard is a believer in Patricia and remains focused on Thursday’s game against the Chicago Bears (5-6). The Lions’ linebacker said he’s learned a lot of football since he came to Detroit last season.

“It hasn’t been a good season so far. I’m a firm believer, I’m riding with (Patricia) until the wheels fall off and that’s my mentality,’’ Kennard said on Monday evening.

His focus is on the Bears, not on the season as a whole. 

“It’s obviously where we’re at, but I’m not the type to be in the middle of the season and be jumping ship,’’ Kennard said. “I’m trying to win a game, I’m trying to win on Thursday, all that other talk and all of that, that’s noise. I think it’s disrespectful to the game to be worried about that kind of stuff. Got a big game on Thursday —  it’s a big thing for fans, this organization to be thinking about anything else but how we’re going to stop losing and how we’re going to get a big win on Thursday. That’s where our minds need to be.’’

In the first meeting two weeks ago, the Bears (5-6) defeated the Lions 20-13. The Lions have lost four straight and seven of their last eight. 

Kennard starting smiling just thinking about the possibility of a win on Thursday.

“It will feel really good. You won’t see me monotone if we get a freaking win I’ll be feeling good. I think it will be a good start it’s one win, you can’t look at anything bigger than that,’’ Kennard said. “It will feel great right now especially on Thursday against a really good team that we’ve lost to a bunch since I’ve been here. Being able to get that win will be huge.’’

Patricia, who is 9-17-1 in his first two seasons, said he’s always disappointed when they don’t win. He’s a competitive guy.

The coach also says this is all a process. 

I know there’s a lot in play here that we’re going through, and we’re trying to build, and we’re trying to do the best we can to improve and get better,’’ Patricia said. “Sometimes, for us, we try to just stay on (the) task at hand for the week. It’s one-week seasons for us. On top of that, we’re looking at other things as far as the development of some of the younger players and the guys that are out there and just how those – even the guys that have been around for a while are improving and going through and learning and improving. For us, it’s just part of the process as we go forward.”

Kennard, who had a sack and a forced fumble in the loss to the Redskins, sees improvement in the defense.

“I actually think the last few weeks there’s been some things we’ve done better. I feel like we’ve stopped the run better the last few weeks — that’s something that’s frustrating me a lot early in the season and I feel like we’re playing better ball when it comes to that,’’ Kennard said. “That needs to continue. That’s a start for me personally and us getting things where we want them, we have to pick up in other areas. I know penalties are killing us, third down is killing us defensively. Those are things we need to address and get fixed.’’