Rogers, Niyo and Wojo try to make sense of the Lions' 48-17 thumping at the hands of the New York Jets. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Detroit — Matthew Stafford was flat on his back for a moment, and by the time he’d lifted his head off the turf — he’d been planted there by one of the New York Jets’ 300-pound defensive linemen — it was all but over.
The play. The game. And maybe more, depending on your outlook, or how long you’ve been suffering as a Lions fan.
Stafford’s errant third-quarter pass — thrown late and behind Theo Riddick running a shallow crossing route — went straight into the mitts of Jets linebacker Darron Lee, who raced 36 yards untouched to the end zone as a mostly horrified crowd of 61,536 at Ford Field watched in disbelief.
Whether or not that pick-six was the backbreaker Monday night is hard to say. It’s also largely irrelevant after a 48-17 rout by the Jets — the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets … Jets? — that put this season in traction before it even managed to get out of bed.
But as Stafford stood at the postgame podium, having begun his 10th NFL season with one of the worst performances of his career — throwing four interceptions that led directly to three Jets scores — he did what he had to do. He shouldered the blame.
“The story of the game is turnovers, you know?” he said. “We had too many of ‘em. I had too many of ‘em. Can’t do that to our team. I told those guys in there, ‘I’ll take this one.’ Hope I never have to say that again.”
Take your pick
It has been a while since he has had to say it quite like that. And to be fair, there was plenty of blame to go around Monday night, starting with the rookie head coach, Matt Patricia, who better be humbled by this loss, as ugly as it was. As ugly as we’ve seen in quite some time in this town, frankly, which is saying something.
Still, somebody had to say something when it was over. Matt Patricia, whose team was beaten soundly in all three phases of the game, didn’t have any answers, other than to swallow hard and admit, “It starts with me.”
For openers, this was a disaster, though, no doubt. And it’s made even more so by some of the postgame commentary from the Jets’ players, a few of whom bragged they knew the Lions’ playbook as well as … well, the Lions.
“We were calling out their plays as (Stafford) was getting up to the line,” said Lee, who was credited with three of the Jets’ 12 pass breakups Monday. “We knew his signals. We knew everything. … It just seemed like we were in his head as a defense.”
If true, embellished or otherwise, that’s just one more indictment of the Lions’ preparation for this game. It’s also nothing new. Whether it’s hand signals or personnel groupings, it’s a bit of a recurring theme here, the predictability of Jim Bob Cooter’s offense. (Or Joe Lombardi's before that, and we know what happened there when the losses mounted early in 2015.)
Still, this was more than simply tipping pitches. And for the Lions’ sake, this better not be the tip of the iceberg.
Because we knew the defense might have its issues coming into the season. We saw the red flags all preseason. We just figured the offense would mitigate some of those problems.
Instead, they only made them worse Monday night in the opener.
After Quandre Diggs’ jump-started the crowd with a pick-six of his own on the first play from scrimmage, pouncing on Sam Darnold’s first career attempt and taking it back 37 yards for a 7-0 lead, the Lions’ offense threw cold water on the home-cooked fire. Stafford & Co. managed just one first down — via penalty — and a total of minus-2 yards in the first quarter.
The run game the Lions spent the entire offseason overhauling never found any real footing, starting with a LeGarrette Blount carry that went for a 7-yard loss and ending with a whopping 39 yards on 15 attempts.
The offensive line also had some protection issues. Stafford wasn’t technically sacked Monday, but he had his left knee buckled by his own left tackle, Taylor Decker, and got clobbered on a few other occasions, including that interception he threw in the third quarter, when rookie left guard Frank Ragnow got beat cleanly by the Jets’ Henry Anderson. Stafford was forced to come out of the game briefly on the next series after getting sandwiched by Anderson and the Jets’ Leonard Williams.
He declined to talk about the injuries after the game, other than to say, “I’ll be OK.” But he knows if the Lions are going to be OK, he’ll have to be much better. Sure, there were some drops from his receivers, and at least a couple 50-50 balls that Marvin Jones Jr. would like to have back.
More glaring, though, were some of those throws that Stafford made. Or the decisions that led to them, particularly the pair in the third quarter that looked more like the kind of plays you’d expect from a rookie quarterback not a 10-year vet.
“That’s my fault,” Stafford said. “Can’t happen. Can’t have those huge-momentum negative plays for us.”
Stafford finished the night 27-of-46 for 286 yards with a touchdown, but his passer rating (47.9) was the worst in a home game for him since — you guessed it — his rookie season in 2009. It’s the fifth time in his career he has thrown four or more interceptions in a game, but the first since 2013 when a careless day against Tampa Bay here at Ford Field started the late-season slide that led to the first head coaching change of his career. (And to the arrival of Jim Caldwell, Patricia's predecessor who helped rid Stafford of some of his bad habits.)
“Probably trying to do a little bit too much at certain times,” Stafford said, when asked if there was a common theme to Monday's mistakes. “Gotta be smarter with the ball."
Smart money says he will be, obviously. And it's worth noting that Patricia wasn't interested in singling his quarterback out after this loss. He knew this was his to wear, not Stafford's, given the circumstances.
“Yeah, I don’t think it was good by anybody out there,” Patricia said. “It’s a team game.”
And it’s Patricia’s team now, to have and to hold. But it’s up to Stafford to keep this season afloat, in many respects, starting next week in San Francisco. And when you ask him why he’s confident this game won’t be a sign of what’s yet to come, it’s clear he understands that, at least.
“I’ve played a lot of football, and a lot of football that’s been at a lot higher level than this,” Stafford said. “And I know we can get there. I know I’ll be there. … Take a long hard look in the mirror, no question. What can you do better? That starts with me, and I’ll do that, for sure.”