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.”

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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.

Lions Golden Tate: ‘We have a chance to write this story a little differently’

Lions play at San Francisco 49ers Sunday

ALLEN PARK >> It’s been a week of introspection for Golden Tate and many of his Detroit Lions’ teammates.

Losing a season opener 48-17 will do that to a player, even an NFL veteran.

“Personally it’s been tough because we showed up in April and put a lot of work in, a lot of hours in, a lot of expectations and the first opportunity you get to do that it hurts. Like I said, it’s a new week, it’s a new opportunity,’’ Tate said. “On Sunday we have a chance to write this story a little differently.’’

The Lions (0-1)  will look for redemption when they play at the San Francisco 49ers (0-1) at 4:05 p.m. on Sunday.

“The season is just now starting. we’ve got a long season, a lot of things are going to happen between now and then. As far as I’m concerned, we’re starting our season this week,’’ Tate said. “Unfortunately we didn’t get it done last week, we didn’t give our fan base much to cheer about. We’re refocused, looking in the mirror working even harder, excited to get back on the field, get on the road against another good opponent and fix this.

“We come back to Detroit 1-1, doesn’t matter what we did in Week 1,’’ he added.

And if they come back 0-2? Let’s take the weeks as they come.

Five thoughts from Tate moving forward:

1. While some Lions said they didn’t hear the boos at Ford Field or tuned them out, Tate definitely heard them. “It was tough, the boos got louder and the Jets’ fan base got louder, to be at home and that be the case it definitely hurts,’’ Tate said. “I can’t say we didn’t deserve it — we didn’t put a great product out there. Like I say, it’s only week 1, we have 15 more opportunities at least to go out there and paint this picture. I have no doubt with the competitors we have that we’re going to get this fixed.’’

2. The wide receiver thinks this is a perfect time to go on the road even though it’s a cross-country trip after a Monday night game. “I like to go on the road this time after last week we played so bad we needed something different,’’ Tate said. “But overall I’d much rather be home, I don’t mind going on the road this time.’’

3. He’s kind of befuddled by the Jets’ claims that their defense was able to read the Lions offense by formation and hand signals, leading them to intercept Matthew Stafford four times. “It kind of surprised me. If it’s true to have all this knowledge of our offense the first week I’m not sure how they got it, i guess we did have a few players over there but I don’t know,’’ Tate said. “I’ve thought about it, I don’t know how they would have got such information especially when we’re at home, they did a good job but now we’re trying to move on to the San Francisco 49ers … We’re excited to get back on the field and get this taste out of our mouth. For not only us but the city, we know we’re a good team and we have some good players we just need to go out there and put it all together.’’

4. Tate takes his share of the blame for the embarrassing loss despite seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. “Anyone who’s satisfied with their performance last week definitely has to look into the mirror,’’ Tate said. “We’re having a week of practice where we’re trying to dial in on details and be better, just collectively, play better team ball and get out there and win. You guys have been around here for a while we have a lot of the same characters, we have a good team, we have good players all over the place we just need to go out there and put it together.’’

5. Tate played with 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman for three seasons (2011-2013) while they were both in Seattle. So the Lions wide receiver knows what to expect. “Richard is an incredible leader, one of the guys who has been known to be the best at what he does for a bunch of years. I can only imagine the impact that he’s had on all of those young DBs over there with similar body styles, similar game play, so we will have our hands full for sure,’’ Tate said. “We’re going to have to be on our Ps and Qs this weekend. I think if anybody can do it we can, we’ve got some talent over here as well. I think our game plan is going to be good, we just have to go out and execute as best we can.’’

Five thoughts on the Lions embarrassing 48-17 loss to the N.Y. Jets

Even Prater missed a pair of field goals

DETROIT — It wasn’t just a loss. The Lions through the years have dropped many games they were supposed to win.

No, Monday night’s season-opening 48-17 loss to the N.Y. Jets was humiliating, embarrassing and all-around atrocious.

To say it was awful is just too kind.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The Lions were beat solidly in every phase on Monday night in the friendly confines of Ford Field by rookie Sam Darnold, the youngest quarterback to ever start a game in the NFL.

Five thoughts:

1. Let’s start with the coaching. Did Matt Patricia have this bunch fully prepared? It did not look like it. Patricia’s first start as an NFL head coach was abysmal.

“Look we’re just trying to come out here everyday and get better. It’s a team game but it starts with me and we’ve got to do it better,’’ Patricia said afterwards. “Look we work hard, try to do the right things, we try to coach it the right way, we try to run it the right way, we try to execute the right way we obviously didn’t do a good enough job tonight.” Obviously.

2. Matthew Stafford is a talented quarterback with a big arm. He is not just a gunslinger. His former backup, Dan Orlovsky, said on WJR’s pre-game show that most people don’t understand the level of Stafford’s intelligence. It was the first game of Stafford’s 10th season and he threw four interceptions. Four. His record is five in a game but that was back when he was a rookie. Stafford got dinged twice in the game, but made it through until there was absolutely no need for him to be on the field.

“The story of the game was turnovers, we had too many of them, I had too many of them. I told those guys in there I’ll take (the blame) for this one. I hope I never have to say that again, I don’t want to do it, I’ll push myself as hard as I can to make sure I don’t have to. Felt prepared coming into the game, but didn’t make enough good decisions or good throws,’’ Stafford said.

3.  It is not the first time opponents said they knew what plays the Lions offense was running before the ball was snapped. Dan Wetzel, Yahoo columnist, tweeted that “a number of  Jets defenders said they knew what plays the Lions were going to run based on formation and Stafford hand signals.’’ Could explain why the Jets defense intercepted Stafford four times and Matt Cassel once. This is inexcusable and it can be blamed on coaching. Patricia knows better than this.

4. Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said finger-pointing will not help. He emphasized that players and coaches have to examine their roles in the debacle. Francois started with himself.

“We just got beat across the board. Tonight is a game we need to look at, we need to look at each individual self including my damn self. I need to look myself in the mirror and look at this game. I have to put it behind me fast,’’ Francois said. “This is a game we need to learn off of. The bad part about it, we got beat this way. The good part about it is we get to learn from it. We’ve got 16 more weeks to play.’’

5. Bailing out the water from this sinking ship can’t be a drawn-out process. It has to be done before Sunday when the Lions play at the 49ers.

“There’s not a lot to be happy about here. I think in general all of us have to be better, start from the top and work our way down, I don’t think there’s anything you can say other than it’s all execution and coaching it all has to be better from that standpoint,’’ Patricia said.

BONUS 1: Wide receiver Kenny Golladay (7 catches for 114 yards) and rookie running back Kerryon Johnson (5 carries for 17 yards; 3 catches for 20 yards) provided highlights on offense. … Safety Quandre Diggs intercepted Darnold on the first play from scrimmage and ran it back 37 yards for a touchdown. It was a great way to start a game. … Detroit’s defense allowed 169 rushing yards and 349 yards overall. … Matt Prater missed two field goal attempts (55 yards short and wide right from 44 yards). … Ziggy Ansah had a sack early, but couldn’t finish the game due to a shoulder injury. Devon Kennard also sacked Darnold. … Ameer Abdullah and A’Shawn Robinson were inactive.

BONUS 2: Ricky Jean Francois gets the final words: “As long as nobody in this locker room, this organization lost faith, I could care less (what’s said) outside the door. None of them play for us. The only people who play for us are the people in this locker room, who I go to practice every day. As long as they still have confidence, as long as they know we have 16 weeks and as long as they know we’ve got a quick turnaround for this game we have to play (Sunday). That’s all that matters to this Lions organization.’’

 

Detroit Lions inactives include Ameer Abdullah, A’Shawn Robinson

Matt Patricia makes his Lions’ debut

DETROIT — Running back Ameer Abdullah, who was not on the injury report, will be inactive for the Lions tonight when they open their regular season against the New York Jets at Ford Field. Kickoff is 7:10 p.m. on ESPN. Abdullah was the Lions’ leading running back in 2017 with 552 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.

That leaves active running backs: Theo Riddick, LeGarrette Blount, rookie Kerryon Johnson and fullback Nick Bellore.

Also defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, who started every game in 2017, is inactive and was not on injury report this week. He had lost his starting role during camp. Sylvester Williams and Ricky Jean Francois are expected to start at defensive tackle.

Other Lions inactives:

Wide receiver Brandon Powell

Cornerback Dee Virgin

Defensive end Romeo Okwara

Guard Joe Dahl

Tackle Andre Donnal (knee) did not practice on Saturday and was listed as out on the injury report that day.

It’s the debut of head coach Matt Patricia has been targeting this day since he was hired in February.

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions open against the N.Y. Jets

All eyes are on Matt Patricia

ALLEN PARK >> Every move that GM Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia have made since January has led up to tonight.

The Lions are 6.5-point favorites against the visiting N.Y. Jets. Kickoff is 7:10 p.m.

The pressure is on Quinn who fired Jim Caldwell after last year’s 9-7 season. He said at the time the team was better than their record.

All eyes are on Patricia in his first stint as a head coach at any level. If 9-7 wasn’t good enough for another year for Caldwell, certainly more is expected of Patricia.

“I think external expectations, they are what they are. I can’t control them, there are probably a lot of people outside this building that have no idea what goes on inside the building from that standpoint,’’ Patricia said. “So, we’re just always going to try to take it day-by-day, we’re going to take it game-by-game. That’s the only thing that matters to us. I think to put numbers on what 16 games are going to look like is just unrealistic for anybody. So, we’re going to try to make sure that we do the best job we can with this game.”

A win against the Jets would be a good start for the Lions who play at the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday and return home to the New England Patriots in Week 3.

Five things to watch in the opener versus the Jets:

1. Watch the running backs — either three or four of them will be active. Patricia refused to elaborate on the number in his Saturday morning press conference. He also wouldn’t say if Ameer Abdullah, who is listed as the kick returner on the depth chart, will indeed have that responsibility. Quinn has said during the offseason that three running backs will be active. Theo Riddick? Check. LeGarrette Blount? Check. Abdullah? Probably. So what about Kerryon Johnson? He will be active. Count on it. We’ll know 90 minutes before the 7:10 game time. “We’re going to try to do what we can that particular week to best fit what the game plan is, to go out and execute at a high level,’’ Patricia said on Saturday. “It might be more running backs, it might be more wide receivers, could be an extra lineman. We might have a situation where we need to go in a different personnel group from that standpoint. So, I wouldn’t always just lock in a number from that look.

2. One game doesn’t mean everything, but it could give us a better indication of what to expect from defensive end Ziggy Ansah this season. He seems healthy and is coming off a season where he had 12.5 sacks with six of them occurring in the last two games. It seemed like an off year for Ansah. The pass rush is critical to an improved defense and Ansah should lead the way.

3. Patricia, in his first game as head coach, will leave play calling to his coordinators Jim Bob Cooter and Paul Pasqualoni. Obviously he’ll chip in when he feels a need. Many Lions fans criticized Jim Caldwell for not displaying emotion on the sideline and yet finished with a 36-28 record. Patricia has been more vocal on the practice field, we’ll see how he is on game day.

4. Matthew Stafford enters his 10th season and 113th consecutive start. No doubt he has a handle on the offense which has been tweaked but not overhauled since last season. If the reworked offensive line and the run game are effective, Stafford will look good not perfect. Don’t jump off the ledge if he throws an interception. That happens, especially if the Lions fall behind. He’ll do his part but will everyone else?

5. The new-look defense will feature multiple looks and packages. This has been a focus of Patricia and Pasqualoni. First, watch for pressure up front and contain on the edges. Jarrad Davis will play a key role and needs to step up from his rookie season. Patricia seems to love Quandre Diggs, who was signed to a three-year extension this week. He’s listed on the depth chart as the starting strong safety, but could also play nickel. Glover Quin and Darius Slay are expected to pick up where they left off. Nevin Lawson had a rough preseason game, but he’s a better corner than that. Or is he?

Prediction: Lions 30, Jets 21. Opening at home will be key for the Lions. This is a game they should win. The Jets, coming off a 5-11 season, feature a rookie starting quarterback in Sam Darnold.

(The game will air on ESPN with Beth Mowins on play by play, Brian Griese as analyst and Laura Rutledge on the sidelines.)