Bloomington, Minn. — During the season, Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate was cryptic and careful about sharing his thoughts. He said he believed he knew what the team needed to be great, but preferred to keep it to himself, not wanting to throw anyone under the bus.
Making the rounds at the Super Bowl, promoting jersey rental service Rep the Squad, a company he has an ownership stake in, Tate offered some clarity on what he believes separated the Lions from this year’s playoff teams.
“I think we have really, really good offensive linemen and really good running backs,” Tate said. “I personally believe if we get that running game performing better, it would help everyone out. When we’re up, we can milk the clock. The play-action pass becomes a lot easier. I just think it makes it easier on everyone.
“I’m not blaming our run game for us not making the playoffs,” he continued. “I could have done a lot better job blocking on the outside and doing some other things. But if we can be more consistent in the run game, we can really blow up. We can be really good.”
The Lions’ run woes are no secret. The team finished last in the NFL in yards and yards a carry in 2017. But Tate isn’t wrong to suggest the individual talent is better than the return on investment. The starting offensive line, which had its share of durability issues, consists of a first-round draft pick, two third-round picks and a pair of coveted free-agent additions.
And in the backfield, feature back Ameer Abdullah, a second-round selection in 2015, offered some promising underlying metrics — finishing with above-average yards after contact and missed tackles — but was hit in the backfield so often, mustering a paltry 3.3 yards a carry. His production led to a marginalized role down the stretch.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn has already committed to bolstering the backfield this offseason, and the firing of offensive line coach Ron Prince, the only assistant relieved of his duties when the team parted ways with head coach Jim Caldwell, is indicative of how Quinn felt about the team’s blocking.
As for the overall future of the team, particularly the impending hire of Matt Patricia to replace Jim Caldwell, Tate has been following only passively.
He’s been busy with more important things. He and his wife, Elise, welcomed their first child, Londyn, on Jan. 18.
Tate said he doesn’t know much about Patricia, but is hopeful he’s the guy to take the Lions to the next level.
“I’m going on Year 9 and since I’ve been in Detroit, we’ve all been saying we’re close, we’re almost there,” Tate said. “I’m ready to win games, win consistently, own our division, be competitive year in and year out. Hopefully, that’s what Patricia will bring. He’s been to many, many AFC championships, Super Bowls as well. He knows how to win.
“The state of Michigan, the city of Detroit deserves a champion,” Tate continued. “We have four major teams within spitting distance of each other, somebody ought to be winning. We really want to win for ourselves and for the city.”
Tate is pleased with reports offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and wide receivers coach Robert Prince are expected to be retained as part of Patricia’s staff.
“The way (quarterback) Matt (Stafford) has been performing and the development of the offense since Calvin (Johnson) has left, it’s been impressive,” Tate said. “Jim Bob was thrown in there and made it happen. Each year, he’s putting more on our shoulders, more on our plates, and I think guys are responding well. I think we’re putting up numbers, guys are making plays, he’s getting his playmakers the ball.”
The Lions finished seventh in scoring, averaging 25.6 points last season, the team’s best ranking since 2011.
Of course, with a new coach there’s always uncertainty. Tate is entering the final year of his contract with the Lions, and, as he puts it, he’s not sure he’ll be a fit for what Patricia has in mind.
Quinn has aggressively extended the contracts of many of the Lions’ key players before their contracts expire, but also noted he wouldn’t be making any personnel decisions until the team officially hires a coach and they can discuss those situations.
Tate has made it clear he wants to stay in Detroit, his home the past four years, and reiterated that point this week.
“I have no clue what’s going to happen,” he said. “I know I hope and pray to be in Detroit. I love where the city is going, the organization is going. I love everyone I work with. I’d love to be here.
“I’ve been available through injuries. I’ve been durable. Each of the past four years, I’ve had 90-plus catches, which says a lot. Three of the four years, I’ve gone over 1,000 yards and contributed to three seasons of nine wins or better. What else can I do other than score some more touchdowns?
Hopefully, it works out.”