Feb. 26, 2019
Lions Look Week 1: Monday Night Debacle
This series of posts will focus on the games of the Detroit Lions. These articles are planned to come live within a few hours of a Lions' game completion.
That. Was. Pathetic.
In front of a national cable television audience, the first Monday Night Football game of the 2018 season... And the Detroit Lions lay an egg of epic proportions in being routed by the New York Jets, 48-17. It was the beginning of the Jets future with top draft choice Sam Darnold making his pro debut to become the youngest opening day starter in history. It first looked that it would be an uphill battle for the University of Southern California product with his first pass a Quandre Diggs interception that was returned 32 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions an early lead. But instead, Darnold settled in, had a nice game (16 of 21 for 198 yards, 2 touchdown passes, & 1 INT) as his teammates would capitalize on an ill prepared host in the Lions.
Meanwhile, this was the beginning of the Matt Patricia era in Lions football, brought in to push this roster to unforeseen heights. Instead of witnessing a different version of the New England Patriots, the former employer of both Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn, they looked like the Lions of the Matt Millen era, a harsh indictment to be sure. The defense, Patricia's bread and butter, was beaten at the point of attack on the line of scrimmage and saw their zone coverages shot full of holes. The offense, coached by Jim Caldwell holdover Jim Bob Cooter, was ineffective for the first half, gave up on the run game before it could ever get started, quarterback Matt Stafford showed limitations in reads that lead to 4 interceptions, one of which was returned for a TD, and the receivers was once again infected with a case of the dropsies. Even special teams had a night to forget, as kicker Matt Prater missed two field goals and the punt coverage unit surrendered two long returns and a return touchdown to former Lion Andre Roberts. A 31 point outburst by Gotham Green pretty much turned the fourth quarter into garbage time, where the home crowd at Ford Field began mass departure to beat the rush of traffic.
This ignominious defeat is reminiscent of a similar beating this team took 18 years ago. In 2001, a new head coach that was considered a bright head coaching prospect in Marty Morninweg took to Lambeau Field as the new Lions leader on the sidelines. With the blessing of the GM in Millen, they were ready to make an impact in Detroit. What would happen would be a humbling 28-6 defeat en route to a demoralizing 2-14 season and the genesis of the Dark Ages of Lions football, an era that took 11 years to conclude. While regaling this story may be a premature overreaction, a lot of similarities stand out. Both Morninweg and Patricia were seen as sought after head coaching candidates, both were the first selections of their respective general managers, and both of them replaced coaches who led the Lions to winning, non-playoff qualifying campaigns the year prior. For some fans, the justifying point in Caldwell's dismissal was seeing the Lions go 9-7 last year when the roster looked capable of so much more. However, it is starting to bear our across the league that the notion of firing a head coach one year too soon may be more damaging to an organization than cutting ties one year too late, as the expected upheaval of personnel on the roster can irrevocably impair the chemistry of the roster.
Patricia now has his work cut out for him, and on a short week, prepare for the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, a squad that took the new look Minnesota Vikings to deep in the fourth quarter. The Lions have not won in northern California since 1975. That would be acceptable atonement for this week's stunning and embarrassing defeat. But it looks like a tall order at this juncture.