Allen Park — As the losses mount, and the Detroit Lions slip into the all too familiar cellar in the NFC North, it was only a matter of time before the question was asked.
Nine games into this disappointing season — probably a little earlier than most expected — coach Matt Patricia was asked about his job security during his Monday press conference.
His answer, both predictable and reasonable, given the unexpectedly early timing of the question, didn't offer much insight.
“I think for me, every single day I come to work, and I work as hard as I can to try to do everything I can to make this team better," Patricia said. "I truly believe that this team is tough. I truly believe that this team goes out and fights every single day. I think they work hard. There’s probably progress that I see that I think is encouraging that maybe everybody else doesn’t see because we’re judged by what we do on Sunday, and that’s where we need to improve. There’s no doubt about that."
That's fair, on multiple accounts. This team has definitely made progress, even if it hasn't been the amount desired or expected.
A year ago, inconsistency ruled the day, which led to a blowout loss to an inferior New York Jets team in the opener, a stretch of three consecutive double-digit losses in the middle of the season, mixed in with impressive showings against the Miami Dolphins and eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
This year, it's a different kind of inconsistency, at least through nine games.
'One or two plays'
The Lions have yet to be out-classed. In fact, they're one of only three teams that have lead every game this season, and they've been tied or led in the second half in all but the most recent game, a 20-13 loss to the Chicago Bears.
Right now, the team is trying to figure out how to routinely get over the hump, to turn those close losses into close wins.
"I would say each game is coming down to maybe one or two plays here or there," Patricia said. "I think our guys are continually trying to battle through that and trying to find ways to come out on the plus side of it, so are we as coaches. We’re trying to figure out if there are different things that we can do, whether it’s scheme or teaching or situational awareness, anything we can do to just kind of break through that kind of level.
"I think once we do that. the confidence part of it goes up and I think everyone kind of performs a lot better, maybe the situation slows down a little bit," Patricia said. "We coach that all the time and try to preach it all the time — make sure you just play this play, don’t make that one play bigger than what it is. Even though maybe the ramifications of it are big, if you start to think that way, I think just the over analyzing of things that go through your head kind of distract you from the immediate of what you need to get done. So, we’re trying to learn how to do that, we’re pushing through that and I give our guys credit for it."
That's all well in good, but it probably falls under the classification of moral victories. You know, the kind of victory that doesn't provide any real satisfaction, and certainly doesn't bring home coveted divisional titles and playoff wins.
Fans in this town are sick of moral victories. They've waited long enough for a real winner. The only thing that matters in football is the result on Sundays and Patricia knows that his squads haven't come close to being good enough in this regard.
After inheriting a team that went 9-7 each of the two seasons before his hire, the Lions went 6-10 last year and are trending toward a similar finish this year with a 3-5-1 mark to date.
No more rebuild
But what will wholesale changes solve, other than the annual lust for something different? And if Patricia goes, general manager Bob Quinn has to go with him, because the roster he's saddled his hand-picked coach hasn't been talented or deep enough to compete with the league's upper-class.
That's ushering in another rebuild, built around different schemes, and likely wasting what's left of quarterback Matthew Stafford's best years. Unless, of course, trading him and salvaging what remaining value he has is part of the grand plan.
Sure, there are plenty of examples of NFL coaches getting fired after one or two years, and Quinn has had four to get this ship moving toward contention. That hasn't happened. Everyone can see that.
The Lions took a step back last season, both adjusting the roster for and waiting for the roster to adjust to Patricia. This year, the expectation was two steps forward. In reality, they're probably closer to where they started, a team with a razor-thin margin of error that can't consistently win and certainly isn't anywhere close to ready to contend for Super Bowls.
Patricia's progress should be allowed to play out. With Stafford's injury as a built-in excuse for whatever happens down the stretch, Patricia is almost certain to get his chance to show his culture, philosophies and schemes can mold a winner out of the roster and drag it over the hump of mediocrity, where it's resides the past several years.
If he can't, if there's not a significant step forward in 2020, or worse yet, a step back, he'll have gotten a fair shake and we can witness a reboot of the process once again.