After terrible tie, will Lions be better at moving forward?
Allen Park — It wasn't a loss, but if it was less gut-wrenching, the difference was negligible.
The Detroit Lions should be 1-0 heading into Sunday's game. Instead, the team coughed up an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter and settled for a tie against the Arizona Cardinals.
"It’s an odd feeling, to be honest with you," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "I haven’t experienced it as a professional and I don’t know the last time I tied anything."
The trick for a professional athlete is having a short-term memory. You don't want to be lingering on an earlier play, let alone a previous week. That goes for both good and bad. The focus has to shift immediately to the present, what has to be done in the moment, so that you're best prepared for the future.
Last year, the Lions struggled to move forward. Obviously physical and mental errors have compounded at an unhealthy rate when you finish under .500 (6-10), but the team also didn't know how to build on its success.
In Week 3, they stomped the eventual Super Bowl champion on primetime television, bulldozing the New England Patriots, 26-10. And out of the bye, the Lions went on the road and dominated the Dolphins in the oppressive Miami heat, 32-21.
That win in Miami marked the only time the Lions won back-to-back games in Matt Patricia's first season as coach. At the time, it looked like the team was on the cusp of gaining some traction. Instead, they stumbled, losing three in a row and five of the next six, killing playoff hopes well before the season's stretch run.
Will this season be any different? Will the Lions be able to refocus and move on to the next opponent with no residual doubt or unchecked confidence based on the previous week's results?
Only time will tell, but Patricia has been pleased with the way the players have responded in the days following disappointment in the desert.
"You probably don’t finally know the answers until next Sunday, I’d say," Patricia said. "I will say this, I feel very confident right now that the team is in a good mental space as far as preparing for the Chargers. I think Monday was great. I think the guys really did a great job, especially coming off a long trip. It was long flight, long trip, put a lot into that game, played a lot of snaps in that game. Guys were tired on Monday, but they really tried to come in and focus and just get all the corrections and move forward. It was really good from that standpoint.
"A lot of guys, I know worked hard (Tuesday), on their off-day, just getting ready to go by some of the meetings that we had (Wednesday) morning. I know they were studying, they were in there and they were moving forward. You try to gauge it the best you can from there and just keep pushing the message and go forward. That’s really what we’re doing right now."
For a veteran like Stafford, moving forward is an old hat. That culture, which is emphasized by every coach in the league, took hold long ago. By Tuesday, he's knee-deep in film of the upcoming opponent, purging the previous week's result from memory.
"You watch the tape, the other team grabs your attention and you just get lost trying to prepare for that team," he said. "The more you play in this league, at this level, probably the easier in comes."
It's the roster's young players who need to be reminded. Players like Will Harris, the rookie safety responsible for allowing a game-altering blocking punt in the closing minutes and who admitted to repeatedly watching the film from that moment to the point he lost count. Or fellow safety Tracy Walker, who gave up two long receptions to Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald on a pair of late scoring drives.
Those younger players might be in need of more veteran stewardship to navigate through the disappointment and keep their eyes forward on the next task at hand.
"I think it’s a huge part of the NFL, obviously, win, lose or draw," Stafford said. "Every week, you’ve got to make sure you’re moving on. The Chargers get our attention, got a ton of talent across the board, have been really successful the past couple years.
"You do this a long time, you understand that. If you don’t understand that, you probably don’t do this for a long time."
Chargers at Lions
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Ford Field, Detroit
Records: Chargers 1-0, Lions 0-0-1
Line: Chargers by 2.5