Phoenix — Matt Patricia would have rather been participating in the latter stages of the NFL postseason than watching from home, but there was a consolation prize for the Detroit Lions coach as he took in and studied this year's playoff games.
Some Lions players, without prompting, were recognizing some of the points of emphasis the coach had been teaching in his first season, telling Patricia his message was getting through to his roster.
"I think one of the coolest things for me was probably during the championship games," Patricia said at the NFL meetings this week. "Some of the things that came up in those games, from a situational football standpoint, was what we’re trying to teach – smarter, understanding the game. And there were some great situations that came up in those games that our players then came back to me – either shot me a text or called or we saw them – and said, ‘Hey, did you see that? If that had gone this way…’ Just kind of that strategic sort of conversation that we’re having with the guys now is totally different than what we were having a year ago. That’s a great start."
Patricia highlighted a specific example from the AFC Championship between the Chiefs and Patriots.
"We try to tell our guys it’s real important that we play smart football and penalties are a big part of that," Patricia said. "You have one team that’s driving down and they’re getting ready to go score and the defense comes up with a big play, which is obviously a game-changer, and you’ve got a penalty on the play. It just completely swings the momentum the other way."
Patricia was presumably talking about Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford lining up offside on a third-down play late in the fourth quarter. That negated what would have likely been a game-ending interception.
The Lions coach also emphasized the importance of responding to those mistakes. The Chiefs defense was unable to recover against the Patriots, allowing a 25-yard pass on the next play, followed by a short touchdown run.
Then, in overtime, the Patriots won the coin toss and drove 73 yards on 13 plays for the game-winning score.
"Just the mental toughness to be able to play through those peaks and valleys of the game is something you need at those higher-level games," Patricia said. "We’ve been in those before, those situations. The emotional part of the game, through the playoffs, into the bigger games, it’s very difficult. Your team has to be ready for that. You have to build that through the course of time. Guys being able to see and understand those situations when they come up, that’s a big one. That’s a huge play you’ll talk about, but people don’t really understand the ramifications of what that really play really was."
The fact his players are identifying these things before he even has the opportunity to highlight them in a meeting tells Patricia his guys are on the right track, mentally.
"Once those guys start to look at the game that way, from the standpoint of this is how this play affects the next one or in this situation we can do this, or this is what that situation would be called, then we can think faster and once we can think faster we can actually slow the game down and play faster," he said. "That was a real positive the postseason."