The New England Patriots are heading back to the Super Bowl and the Detroit Lions will have to wait two more weeks before they can potentially name Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia the franchise’s 27th head coach.
Behind a stout second-half effort from Patricia’s defense, the Patriots rallied past the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, 24-20, earning an opportunity to defend their championship. It’s the third time in four years the Patriots will represent the AFC in the title game and eighth time in 17 years for the dynasty coached by Bill Belichick.
The Patriots kicked a field goal on the game’s opening possession, but quickly found themselves down 14-3 in the second quarter. They continued to trail until late in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Tom Brady connected with Danny Amendola for a 4-yard touchdown with 2:56 remaining.
Jacksonville drove into New England territory on the ensuing possession, but Blake Bortles’ fourth-down pass to rookie Dede Westbrook was broken up by cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Patriots running back Dion Lewis sealed the victory with an 18-yard run on third-and-9, allowing Brady to take three straight knees to run out the clock.
That victory puts the future on hold for Patricia, as well as Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who is reportedly heading to the Indianapolis Colts. Linebacker coach Brian Flores also remains in the mix for the Arizona Cardinals vacancy.
Patricia was hired as a low-level assistant with the Patriots in 2004. During his time in New England, he’s coached the offensive line, linebackers and safeties before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 2012. In those six seasons, his units have been a top-10 scoring defense each year, holding opponents to fewer than 20 points per game the past four.
If he were to join the Lions, Patricia will be reconnected with general manager Bob Quinn, who made a similar climb up the ranks in New England before coming to Detroit two years ago. The duo’s employment overlapped for 12 seasons.
When Quinn took the Lions general manager job in 2016, he opted to retain Jim Caldwell as coach and the team produced back-to-back 9-7 seasons. But after missing the playoffs this year, Quinn opted for a different direction, citing the need for a new voice and his disappointment in the team’s ability to beat quality opponents.
Patricia was immediately presumed to be the front-runner as the Lions began a search that ultimately involved six candidates. The team interviewed both of Caldwell’s coordinators, Teryl Austin and Jim Bob Cooter, a pair of coaches within the division — Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Green Bay linebackers coach Winston Moss — and Houston Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, in addition to Patricia.
For a couple days, reports swirled that Patricia preferred a position with the New York Giants, but they could prove incorrect. As it became clearer that Patricia may choose Detroit, Austin took another job as the Bengals defensive coordinator, while Vrabel found a head-coaching opportunity in Tennessee.
With the Patriots qualifying for the Super Bowl, the Lions will be able to conduct a second interview with Patricia. League rules still prohibit the announcement of a formal agreement, or even a stated intention to negotiate a contract, until after the game on Feb. 4.
This will be the third time in four years a coach will be hired from one of the Super Bowl participants. In 2015, the Atlanta Falcons hired Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn after the game. Last year, Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan took over in San Francisco.