Sunday’s game puts Lions’ Matt Patricia and Patriots’ Bill Belichick in spotlight

Both coaches insist it’s about the game, not their relationship

ALLEN PARK — Whether they like it or not, much of the focus leading into Sunday night’s Lions home game against the New England Patriots will be focused on the coaches.

Bill Belichick hired Patricia in 2004 as an offensive assistant and kept him around until the Lions hired him as their 27th head coach in February.

Neither one wants to talk much about the past. In typical coach-speak, they’re focused on the matchup between the Lions (0-2) and Patriots (1-1). Kickoff is 8:20 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field.

Belichick is 4-1 against the Lions since his first year as head coach in New England. The only loss was on Thanksgiving in his first season (2000) when the Lions won, 34-9. Drew Bledsoe was the quarterback for the Patriots who went 5-11 that season. Charlie Batch led the Lions who finished 9-7 in 2000.

“This is about the Patriots and the Lions. And each of us has a part in the game obviously, and I have all the respect in the world for Matt, Bob (Quinn), Mrs. (Martha Firestone) Ford, who I worked for. Great people in the Lions organization,’’ Belichick said in a conference call on Wednesday. “But in the end, it’s about the two teams competing and that’s what the game is about. Hopefully we can go out there and do a good job. So, that’s what we’re going to try and do.”

Belichick, who has won five Super Bowl rings in New England, coached with the Lions early in his career as assistant special teams coach in 1976 and receivers coach in 1977. (By the way, the Lions were 6-8 both of those seasons.)

Patricia, who won three Super Bowl rings as  the Patriots’ defensive coordinator, would also rather focus on the Lions instead of his New England ties.

“New England is New England. We’re trying to build Detroit here. We’re trying to do the best thing we can for the Lions with this team and the players that we have,’’ Patricia said. “There’s certain philosophies that I think carry over as me as a coach and what I believe in. Whether that’s New England or Syracuse or wherever I was before, college or whatever the case may be, just things that I believe in.’’

The comparison has been made for three years since the Lions hired general manager Bob Quinn from the Patriots where he had spent 16 seasons in a variety of roles. The talk intensified when he hired Patricia to replace Jim Caldwell who was fired after posting a 9-7 record in 2017.

Belichick didn’t want to get into too many details about his relationship with Patricia. He wouldn’t say if he saw some of himself in Patricia 14 years ago when he first hired him.

“I try not to evaluate those kinds of things. Look, every player and every person is different and every coach is different. No two of us are the same, even identical twins. So, everything is different, I really don’t worry about that,’’ Belichick said. “I just try to do the best job that I can in the role that I have.”

Belichick said there was no magic when he first hired Patricia. He makes it sound like it was a just another hire.

“We had openings, he was recommended, we talked to a number of people and we thought he was the best fit. And he did a great job and continued to expand his role,’’ Belichick said. “He did a number of things in the organization. He started off as an offensive assistant on the offensive line and ended up as the defensive coordinator—and there were a lot of things in between.”

Patricia is growing and learning at his first stint at any level as a head coach. Of course, he’s taking some of what he learned from New England and trying to transform the culture at the Lions’ organization. He’s figured out at least one thing about Belichick since he’s been a head coach.

“I would say the only thing that you can’t really get a perspective on until you sit in this seat would be, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, is just how much time that (Belichick)  would give me in particular and the other coaches. You walk in his office and he might be doing a thousand things. You have no idea. And your question is the most important question in the entire world, so you have to get it answered right away,’’ Patricia said. “And he would just stop and explain it, teach it, coach it. And I’d move on, I’d go handle my situation. And I’m sure that he just got stockpiled with everything else that was walking through his door, I slowed him down a little bit, I’m sure, at that point. Which you think you kind of realize, but you really don’t realize just how much is coming at you.”

Five things to know about Lions’ 30-27 loss to the San Francisco 49ers

Lions now 0-2, welcome Patriots on Sunday night

The Lions made it interesting in the waning minutes, but had fallen too far behind to catch up. Detroit fell to 0-2 in Matt Patricia’s inaugural season with a 30-27 loss at the San Francisco 49ers.

New coach, many of the same old problems — missed tackles, run game inefficiencies and too many penalties.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

On top of that all, Matthew Stafford’s game was not spot-on. Again. He missed Marv Jones Jr., deep on three long attempts and Golden Tate on another. Those are passes that should be automatic.

Here are five things to know about the loss:

1. Stafford played better than he did in the opening loss to the Jets, but still didn’t look himself. He did not throw an interception but lost a fumble and couldn’t connect at key times. It was not all on him. It looked like Theo Riddick dropped a fourth-and-2 pass with seconds left while the Lions were trying to get in field goal position for Matt Prater. Stafford had injured his calf in the Monday night game but was not on the injury report all week. He was sacked twice on Sunday and pressured often. He shouldered the blame for the loss to the Jets, saying he had to play better. He did, but it wasn’t enough. Stafford was 34 of 53 for 347 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

2. The Lions defense gave up to many chunk yardage plays while the Detroit offense had trouble running or passing against the 49ers for big chunk yardage. Golden Tate caught a 67-yard pass late in the game. Kenny Golladay’s touchdown was from 30 yards out. The longest run was for 21 yards by Kerryon Johnson.

3. The Lions’ run game looked less anemic than on Monday night, finishing with 98 yards rushing compared to 39 in loss to Jets. Johnson led with eight catches for 43 yards (5.4 yards per run) while LeGarrette Blount averaged 4.8 yards per carry (eight carries, 38 yards). This offense is not meant to operate at a 50-50 run-pass ratio, but they have to be able to run the ball. And, actually, as Chris Spielman explained it — throwing the ball would open up the run.

4. The defense — playing without the injured Ziggy Ansah — sacked Jimmy Garoppolo six times for losses of 50 yards. But he was able to complete 69.2 percent of his passes, including a pair of touchdown tosses. The Lions’ defense struggled big-time stopping the run. They  allowed 190 rushing yards with Matt Breida marking career highs with 138 rushing yards and a 66-yard rushing touchdown. This was an issue on Monday night when they allowed the Jets to rush for 169 yards. It was a concern, but obviously it was not fixed.

5. Penalties were killers. Jamal Agnew’s fourth-quarter 73-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was negated when flags were thrown for blocks in the back by two Lions. Detroit was called for 10 penalties costing them 105 yards and likely the ball game. Veteran running back LeGarrette Blount was kicked out of the game in the fourth quarter, when he came off the bench when Elijah Lee knocked Stafford out of bounds and no penalty was called. Blount shoved Lee and was ejected. Stafford’s wife Kelly had something to say about Blount’s ejection on Instagram: “I don’t care. I love Blount for that sh–.” She’s right, it did show passion, something the Lions were missing on Monday night.

NEXT UP: The Lions (0-2) play the New England Patriots (1-1) on Sunday night at Ford Field. The Patriots lost to the Jaguars, 31-20, on Sunday.

Five things to watch as Lions face 49ers

Both teams want to avoid 0-2 start

After Monday night’s 48-17 loss, the Detroit Lions have much to prove today at the San Francisco 49ers.

They can quiet the rumors that the team doesn’t buy into new coach Matt Patricia. The defense can show that Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni have drawn up a scheme that complements the players’ talents.

They can prove this team is ready to take a step up from a 9-7 record last season. They can show that they can compete for a playoff spot.

(Kickoff is at 4:05 p.m. on FOX)

The Lions’ short turn-around from playing on Monday night is no excuse. This is the NFL, this is what they do.

In the past 10 seasons only 10 NFL teams  made the playoffs after an 0-2 start. Here’s the thing, though. San Francisco is 0-1 too — although they looked more competitive in the 24-16 loss at the Vikings.

It all sets up for a Week 2 game with plenty on the line for both teams.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford should have a better game. The four interceptions were not all on him, but he made some bad decisions in the first game of this tenth season. He is better than that. Of course when he delivers a ball to a receiver, they cannot drop it. Golden Tate alone had two drops. He knows he can do better.

2. The offensive line last week didn’t allow Stafford to be sacked. However, the quarterback faced much pressure. With T.J. Lang (foot) out at right guard we could see Kenny Wiggins start in his place. He is experienced after starting all 16 games last season for the Chargers. The line — all five of them — have to play better than last week not just in protecting Stafford but opening up holes for the running backs.

3. That run game that has been talked about since the final snap of the 2017 season, needs to get in gear early. Let’s see more of rookie Kerryon Johnson and veteran LeGarrette Blount. Last week Ameer Abdullah was inactive (coach’s decision) and would expect the same at San Francisco. The Lions only had 39 yards rushing in Monday night’s loss to the Jets. They had to get away from the run in the second half because they fell so far behind. In the first half they managed just 18 rushing yards. It’s befuddling, that’s for sure. If it’s not corrected, their chances of beating the 49ers are diminished.

4. Detroit’s defense got off to a terrific start with Quandre Diggs intercepting Sam Darnold on the Jets’ first play from scrimmage. It was pretty much downhill from there with the defense giving up five touchdowns, 169 rushing yards and 48 total points. It doesn’t get easier. Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense has plenty of weapons with Jimmy Garoppolo connecting on passes of 36 yards or more to three different receivers last week. Shanahan said he watched Patriots’ film from the Super Bowl to acquaint himself with Patricia’s defensive scheme. The line must get pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo to force him to throw interceptions. Last week he threw three, which is uncharacteristic for him. In six games last season he was picked off just five times. The Vikings made him uncomfortable (he was sacked three times) and it worked.

5. Special teams must get its act together after a lousy start against the Jets. They gave up a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown and Matt Prater missed two field goals (56 and 44 yards). Sam Martin’s punts averaged a healthy 50.7 yards but those were returned for a total of 137 yards. Special teams can be overlooked, but this unit needs to step up.