Lions' confidence swells after upset over Patriots
Allen Park — Matt Patricia had barely crossed the threshold into the Detroit Lions locker room on Sunday night before he was met with a bear hug from team president Rod Wood.
The coach reciprocated, lifting Wood off his feet, and as they separated, general manager Bob Quinn swooped in for an embrace with his longtime friend and the man he hired to lead the Lions to the promised land.
Players soon swarmed Patricia, veterans and youngsters alike, and the mass of humanity began jumping up and down, similar to a baseball team at the pitcher’s mound after a pennant is clinched.
On the surface, the celebration might seem a bit much for your standard regular-season victory, but Detroit’s 26-10 take down of the New England Patriots was admittedly something more than just another game. It was Patricia’s first win as a head coach and it came against his mentor, Bill Belichick, and former employer, the NFL’s gold standard for the better part of two decades.
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The victory also helped lift the dark clouds that had been forming around the organization after a disappointing 0-2 start to the season, one that carried such high expectations following the addition of Patricia this offseason.
The coach broke free from the huddle and rallied his troops. He congratulated them on their victory and highlighted the emotion in the room.
“Is this fun?” he shouted. “This is exactly what we needed, right?”
But like any good coach, Patricia already had eyes on what’s next, closing his brief speech by reminding his team of its upcoming challenge.
“I love you, I believe in you and we have to keep stacking them together,” he said. “We’ve got to roll now. You got me? Enjoy it tonight, but I’m just telling you, when you come in tomorrow, it’s on to the Cowboys.”
In Dallas, next Sunday, the Lions will see if their newfound momentum, built on the positive vibes of a prime-time upset of the Patriots, is sustainable.
The players came in to the practice facility on Monday morning for film study. The team re-watched its performance against New England, identified its errors, kick-starting the weeklong process of ironing those issues out in preparation for the trip to Dallas.
It’s the weekly routine, the day after a game, but this Monday had a different feel than previous weeks, according to the players. Confidence is in the air and the Lions are believing they’re ready to get back on track after their sluggish start to the year.
“I think what it should do is make us more hungry,” wide receiver Golden Tate said. “We should realize what it feels like to win, what it feels like to come in on Monday after a game. It makes those corrections a lot easier to deal with. Let’s see if we can build on it. Let’s see how far we can take this.”
Patricia is a believer in momentum, particularly within games. He said he opted to kick a field goal early in the first quarter against the Patriots, instead of going for it on fourth-and-inches, because he wanted to put points on the board and not give the Patriots the ability to make a defense stand.
But week-to-week momentum, that’s a bit different, according to Patricia. Of course, he hopes to see carryover from Sunday’s dominant showing, but understands that positive energy can’t be sustained without continuous effort.
“It’s hard,” he said. “You’d obviously like to get that (momentum), you know, if you could week in and week out, but I think each week is different in the NFL. I mean, it’s so hard, it’s different, it’s not the same every week, so you really almost have to reset every single week and, you know, you grind it out, you play the game, you empty the tank, you come back in the next day and you start filling it back up and get ready for the next game.”
But linebacker Eli Harold has seen this before, last year, while playing in San Francisco. That team started the year 0-9, before securing its first win. That was the start to a strong finish, and the 49ers ended the year on a five-game winning streak.
Harold, acquired in a preseason trade, said the Lions locker room has been a positive one since he arrived, but like Tate, he can sense something different after Sunday.
“Everyone believing in themselves, getting the taste of victory, it’s important to your confidence,” Harold said. “I know for me, I’m big on believing confidence is key. With the way everything is going with this team, we’re very confident after what happened last night.”
The victory over the Patriots was as complete a win as Tate said he’s experienced in a long time. The Lions broke a longstanding narrative by running the ball consistently, which allowed the offense to control the clock, while the defense surrendered next to nothing to quarterback Tom Brady, arguably the best to ever play his position.
As for Dallas, they’re reeling a bit to start the year. The team is 1-2 after getting thumped by Seattle on Sunday and are expected to be without star linebacker Sean Lee against the Lions because of a hamstring injury.
This is a chance for the Lions to continue to flip the script on their slow start to the season.
“We don’t get too high, we don’t get too low, we just try to improve,” Patricia said. “A week ago, the story was completely different as I’m standing up here. So, what I try to do is focus on the details of, ‘What do we need to do to get better next week?’ I think that’s the most important thing.
“There’s still a lot on tape and a lot on film that we need to do better, we just need to improve on and we need to make sure that we fix. We’re really going to try to hammer those the best that we can and hopefully next week looks better than this week.”