Wojo: Patricia's debut with Lions a staggering disaster

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
Lions head coach Matt Patricia had quite a baptism to NFL head coaching ranks Monday.

Detroit — The boos began early and echoed all night, increasingly louder, angrier and thoroughly justified. This was an embarrassment in every way, the worst start ever for a franchise that has birthed plenty of bombs.

Matt Patricia’s debut as Lions coach was so stunningly bad, you already have to ask tough questions. His team looked clueless, including the one guy he thought he could count on. Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions, and when he wasn’t heaving recklessly, he was getting clobbered behind a broken offensive line.

If only it were as simple as pinning it all on Stafford. Oh he was awful, and he put the blame on himself, but it’s much more than that, and that’s the huge concern. In getting lambasted by the Jets 48-17 Monday night, every element of the team looked poorly prepared. The Lions couldn’t block, couldn’t run, could barely stand up. They couldn’t generate any sustainable pressure on rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, who completed 16 of 21 passes, and it got worse after Ziggy Ansah left with a shoulder injury.

All those troubling signs during the sloppy preseason? Turns out they were real, and now impossible to ignore. This was a high-level humbling for a regime that was brought here to change the culture, and now must recognize the enormity of the job. Here’s what should really make Lions fans nervous: What if Patricia and GM Bob Quinn aren’t as smart as we thought they were, or they think they are?

When the Jets’ Isaiah Crowell broke loose for a 62-yard touchdown to make it 48-17, Patricia stood by himself at the far end of the bench, stone-faced, arms crossed, not moving. When the game mercifully ended, he walked slowly across the field and plucked the pencil from behind his ear. He’s gonna want a gigantic eraser now.

Mea culpa time

“I’m going to be most disappointed in myself, I think that’s where I always start,” Patricia said. “I have to do a better job and that’s always where I’m going to take it. And we’re going to go and look at it on film, and then obviously get everything corrected that we need to have corrected, both in coaching and playing.”

Patricia and Stafford took turns accepting the blame, but everyone gets tossed into the sad paper sack after this one. Quinn supposedly upgraded the running game and the offensive line, but there was literally no evidence of it. The Lions rushed for 39 yards, only 17 by prized rookie Kerryon Johnson. The offense was expected to sustain the Lions until the defense improved, but holdover coordinator Jim Bob Cooter looked like he’d never called a game in his life. Several Jets defenders talked about how easily they could predict the plays.  

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The Lions kept trying to run when it was fruitless. That forced Stafford to throw even more, and the Jets had a ball picking him off. Linebacker Darron Lee had two interceptions and returned one 36 yards for a touchdown. Twice, Stafford was hit especially hard, and once had to leave the game. Afterward, he said he was OK, and again took responsibility.

 “The story of the game is turnovers, and we had too many of them, I had too many of them,” said Stafford, who was 27-for-46. “Can’t do that to our team. I told those guys in there that I’ll take this one, and hope I never have to say that again. Totally prepared coming into the game, I just didn’t make enough good decisions or throws.”

It was such a horrific collapse, we run the risk of overreacting, but it’s a risk I’ll have to take. Is it really possible the high point for the Lions’ new regime lasted all of 20 seconds? Quandre Diggs intercepted Darnold’s first pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown, and just like that, the Lions led 7-0. And then just like that, it all evaporated.

And just like this, you wonder how long it’ll take to correct the mess. Few were pegging the Lions as a playoff team, but remember, this was not supposed to be a rebuild, uh-uh, that wasn’t the plan. Jim Caldwell was fired with a winning record after a 9-7 season because the Lions wanted more. Well, apparently wanting more isn’t as easy as plucking a defensive “whiz” from the Patriots and running a physical training camp.

Quite a jolt

This had to be eye-opening and confidence-shaking. On prime time, the Lions were a touchdown favorite against an opponent with the youngest rookie quarterback ever to start an opener, and Darnold looked far more prepared than the 10-year veteran on the other side. Patricia was supposed to scheme things up, but on initial impression, he’s dumbed it down, and Cooter's offense looked simple and predictable.

Quinn and Patricia made moves with impunity, and appeared to focus on the right things, on the trenches, on toughness. They invested heavily in the offensive line, including No. 1 pick Frank Ragnow. But it already looks beaten up, and T.J. Lang left with a back injury.

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Clearly, Patricia doesn’t have all the answers, but it would be nice to hear (or see) something other than vague platitudes. The Lions cut Anthony Zettel just before the season, even though he was one of the few linemen that could rush the passer. On Monday night, big tackle A’Shawn Robinson, Quinn’s second-round pick three years ago, was a healthy scratch.

Players said all the appropriate things about sticking together, but this was a stain that won’t be easily erased, with a trip to San Francisco next, followed by a visit from New England.

“Give credit to the Jets, they outplayed us in every phase of the game,” offensive tackle Taylor Decker said. “I know it sounds crazy, but we’re a lot better football team than we showed. I think we all know that and we’re all secure and comfortable with that.”

No one should be too secure or comfortable with anything after this debacle. It began with a raucous roar, as Diggs intercepted the first pass, and quickly was replaced by boos of disgust. Somehow, no matter who’s coaching them, no matter who’s quarterbacking them, the Lions always find ways to generate the ugliest noise.