Wojo: For Matt Patricia and Lions, it should be over

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News

Minneapolis — Nothing more to see here. Not this season, not from this Lions team, not from this regime.

Martha Ford hasn’t publicly declared she’s considering firing Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn, and perhaps she isn’t. But she should, based on everything, including this full-fledged collapse. The Lions are a growing mess, losers of six straight and nine of 10 after falling to the Vikings, 20-7, Sunday. And amid all the explanations and conclusions, only one sticks.

Patricia and Quinn have failed. The task has proven too big for them.

There’s no legitimate reason for them to return, with Patricia’s 9-19-1 record in two seasons and Quinn’s 27-33-1 in four seasons. You could fire Patricia and keep Quinn, but that’s not likely or logical. They’re attached at the Patriot hip, and the issues encompass everything — coaching, roster composition, direction.

Following Sunday's loss, the Lions fell to 9-19-1 under coach Matt Patricia.

There have been injuries and close calls and simple misfortune, and yes, the Lions (3-9-1) continued to battle against the Vikings (9-4). It was the first time in 13 games the Lions never led, and the 13-point margin was the largest of the season. That would matter more if there were other signs of progress, or clear foundational pieces. Good effort isn’t good enough, and Patricia knows all verdicts eventually are rendered by the record.

Normally, two years aren’t enough to accurately judge a first-time head coach. But I don’t see where Patricia has built any equity, or earned the right to continue. I asked him how he can convince people (and ownership) he can turn this around, and if he understood the job-security scrutiny.

“I’ve been in the NFL a long time, I know what the NFL is about, I do understand that,” Patricia said. “But I also understand what we’re trying to do. I know there’s been a lot of coaches that have taken over programs and really tried to start and build something, and work from the bottom and try to grow on it. And I know what those records looked like too when those guys all started out.”

'We're right there'

This is where convenient revisionism sets in, and it shouldn’t. When Quinn took over in 2016, the Lions weren’t at the bottom but slightly above the middle — Jim Caldwell was coming off 11-5 and 7-9 seasons. When Patricia arrived in 2018, the Lions weren’t at the bottom, with Caldwell coming off a 9-7 season.

This wasn’t billed as a rebuild, starting with Quinn’s famous proclamation that he believed the Lions had better than 9-7 talent. But almost immediately, the Quinntricia alliance approached it as a rebuild, trading established players such as Golden Tate and Quandre Diggs, brooming others. Quinn has drafted cautiously in the first round, taking long-term pieces — linebacker Jarrad Davis, center Frank Ragnow, tight end T.J. Hockenson — instead of gambling on skilled impact guys.

To be fair, there’s a benefit doing it that way, looking for steady and sturdy instead of patchwork. It takes more time, and it contradicts Quinn’s statement about the team’s talent level. With an organization as perpetually woeful as the Lions, roster upheaval is necessary for cultural upheaval, and early under Patricia, there was resistance from players.

A new regime must break down resistance but that only works if it builds smartly, and if there are flashes of promise. Taking a tight end with the No. 8 overall pick looked foolish at the time and still does, and not just because Hockenson is hurt. Drafting scheme-fit players in the early rounds — Jahlani Tavai, Tracy Walker, Teez Tabor, Kenny Golladay — has produced mixed results, raising the mid-level talent but not addressing the Lions’ lack of high-level difference-makers.

The best news Sunday was that another bottom-feeder, Atlanta, won so the Lions rose to the No. 5 spot in the draft, for now. There’s a decent chance they’ll keep climbing after the final three games — Tampa at home, at Denver, Green Bay at home. David Blough is trying admirably to fill in for Matthew Stafford, but Blough had no idea how to escape the Vikings’ pass rush.

The Lions also are missing running back Kerryon Johnson, yet Darrell Bevell’s offense has produced at a decent clip. Do the injuries, especially to Stafford, explain part of the 3-9-1 record? Of course. Explain away all of it? Absolutely not.

“We know we’re in the middle of a process, trying to get better,” Patricia said. “We’re in tough ballgames, we’re right there. What I appreciate about this team is, we don’t look at our record and say this is what we are. I think we look at our record and say that’s not what we are, and we gotta figure out how to get the record to match up with what we are.”

Building blocked

The problem is, for all the talk of the Lions’ toughness, their defense has been mostly awful, and it was supposed to be the strength under Patricia. Trailing the Vikings 17-0 at halftime, the Lions kept clawing and held Minnesota to 102 total yards in the second half. Patricia touts such effort, in the absence of anything else.

“We’re an extremely competitive group,” he said. “Obviously we’ve gotta perform on Sundays a little bit better. But those guys are working hard, and I think they’re laying that foundation. You have to have a foundation before you can build anything on top of it.”

Intangibles are important but players are the blocks that go on top. And I’m not sure Quinn and Patricia fully appreciate that. They spend so much time playing silly mind games and evading topics, they’re outsmarting no one, except themselves.

For instance, what’s the point in keeping Stafford on the active roster, when there’s no reason whatsoever to play him? The Lions’ secretive ways cost them some embarrassment when the NFL levied $110,000 in fines on the team, Quinn and Patricia for not following protocol in updating Stafford’s back injury.

What’s the point in signing Diggs and making him a captain this year, then trading him in a stunner to Seattle, where he’s made a huge impact? Cornerback Darius Slay might be the Lions’ best defensive player but he has chafed about his contract and questioned the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy. You’d think he’d be a building block, but more likely, he’ll be considered a poor fit and traded after the season.

He stood up after this loss and explained why the Lions aren’t bailing, at least from an effort standpoint.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s never difficult for me,” Slay said. “I tell my guys that your film is your resume, so if you want a bad resume, then just go out there and do nothing. I have never been a quitter and I never will be one. I’m going to play my hardest and that’s it. It’s all about my resume.”

That’s how it works in the NFL, for players and coaches, all about resumes and records. Quinntricia’s rebuilding plan may make sense in theory, but there isn’t enough tangible evidence to think it’ll work. I have no idea if Martha Ford has reached the same conclusion and is prepared to start over, but it looks indisputable. There’s nothing more to see here.

Twitter: @bobwojnowski