New linebacker Jamie Collins looks to push Lions from 'one play away' to winner
Allen Park — A number of times over the past two seasons, Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia noted his team was a play here or a play there from an entirely different outcome, and with a few different outcomes, you're looking at a different record.
That message is likely to ring hollow with fans after the team finished with just three wins a year ago, but there is something to it, at least before quarterback Matthew Stafford went down with an injury.
Last year's season-opener slipped from a win to a tie after safety Tracy Walker got beat deep by legendary wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the fourth quarter. That 41-yard gain to convert a third-and-14 opened the door for the Cardinals' comeback.
Against the Kansas Chiefs, take your pick. There was Kerryon Johnson's fumble, awkwardly returned 100 yards for a touchdown after everyone stopped expecting a whistle. And that wasn't nearly as devastating as Patrick Mahomes scrambling up the gut for a fresh set of downs on fourth-and-8.
In Green Bay, on Monday night, it was the officials that altered the outcome, flagging defensive end Trey Flowers twice for hands to the face in the closing minutes. Replays showed first call was legit, but the second was enough to have earned Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari an Oscar.
And in Oakland, the Lions had a shot to tie it in the closing seconds, but Stafford's fourth-and-goal pass from the 1-yard line fell incomplete. Worse yet, the quarterback took a back-breaking hit on the drive that ended his year.
Whether coaching, execution or officiating, if those bounces had gone Detroit's way, the team could have been 7-1 at the halfway point. The only game they were soundly beaten was by the Vikings, and even then, the Lions were within five with three minutes remaining.
Sure, the season still probably falls apart after Stafford goes down, but everyone probably feels differently about a team that was 7-1 than a team that lost 12 of its final 13 games and is slated to pick No. 3 in the draft.
Enter Jamie Collins, one of Detroit's top free-agent additions last week.
Collins subscribes to the philosophy that the Lions were on the cusp of turning a corner last year. Now he wants to be the one to get them there in 2020.
"When you're a player, man, you look at the game different than outsiders or fans," Collins said Tuesday on a conference call with Detroit media. "We break down the game, we process the game, we digest the game just different than the average person. Yeah it's this, yeah it's that, but it's one play. When you boil down to it, it's one or two plays that's the difference in the game. I feel like me being a veteran now, I can can bring some veteran, professional, little things to get us over the top. I'm definitely up for the challenge."
Collins, 30, has seen the top of the mountain and the deepest of valleys during his seven-year career. A second-round pick by the Patriots, he won a Super Bowl in 2014, his first season as a full-time starter. Then he was traded to Cleveland, where that team went winless in 2017 when Collins was limited to six games because of injury.
He returned to New England last season and had his best all-around season, tallying 81 tackles, seven sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. And he parlayed that into a three-year, $30 million deal with the Lions.
He brings a familiarity with Detroit's scheme, having previously played under coach Matt Patricia. He also possesses rare versatility as a defender. With the Lions, he's likely to continue being used in a diverse fashion, splitting his playing time between the line of scrimmage and off the ball.
His ability to generate turnovers, with 26 combined interceptions and forced fumbles during his career, could end up being that one play the Lions need some weeks.
Regardless, he's confident better days are ahead for the long-suffering franchise.
"They’re getting a professional," Collins said. "They’re getting a winner. They’re getting a leader. They’re getting a guy that you can hold accountable. Great energy, getting a guy with great energy. ... I would say I’m determined. They’re getting a determined player."
"Things I went through, man, I could have shut it down but I kept pushing and did what I had to do to come up and succeed in life," Collins said, referencing the passing of both his parents before his sixth birthday. "I just feel like my upbringing really helped me through these hard times and through this time right now. (The Lions are) definitely getting a smart, head-on-straight, down-to-earth, fun, winner.
"We definitely going to start winning, right now."