Lions' Matt Patricia won't 'ride the roller coaster,' seeks consistency after victory
During coach Matt Patricia’s two-plus seasons, there have been plenty of ups and downs. In 35 games, he’s won just 10 times, including last season’s miserable 3-12-1 record.
In a gloomy tenure, the Lions got a ray of sunshine in the Arizona desert, with Sunday’s last-second victory over the Arizona Cardinals, 26-23, ending their 11-game losing streak. It’s not time to plan any parades but improving to 1-2 this season can be seen as progress.
Although there was some jubilation in ending the skid, Patricia said there wasn’t a celebration or even a sense of relief, amid the suggestion that maybe he had cooled some of the talk about being on the hot seat. The weekly highs and lows go with every win and loss — and the lows often come after wins.
“I don't ride the roller coaster. I've just got to stay consistent. I think it's hard to lead if you ride the roller coaster,” Patricia said Monday. “I think it's hard to exist in this world of competitive football if you ride that roller coaster because I think when you do that, you just kind of hope it stops when you're at the high point and not the down point.
“For us, it's about being consistent — it's early in the season and we're trying to get better. We're trying to learn and there's a lot of plays in this game that we’ve got to do better. We're going to go back to work and try to improve. That's the bottom line.”
It’s the Lions’ first win in 11 months. There’s no celebration in that, just some sense of getting things right and figuring out how to do it again.
There’s still plenty to improve. The offense got a boost with receiver Kenny Golladay’s return from hamstring issues, which kept him out of the first two games. Special teams made some special plays, with another sparkling performance from punter Jack Fox and kicker Matt Prater making all four of his field-goal attempts, including the game-winner as time expired.
There’s no downplaying the fact the Lions beat the Cardinals (2-1), one of the hottest teams in the league. That should provide a confidence boost, especially coming off back-to-back losses in which they let double-digit leads evaporate against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.
“It's been a long road since the last time we had a win as a team,” tight end Jesse James said. “So, we’ll try to take it one week at a time and don't overanalyze things and finally being able to pull together in a tough environment versus a tough team to get the win was huge for us — we definitely needed it.”
After some preseason talk that the Lions would diversify the offense and get the tight ends more involved, James went the first two games without even being targeted by quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions flipped that into three catches (on four targets) for 28 yards and a 5-yard touchdown that gave them a 10-7 lead in the second quarter.
More importantly, the defense played better Sunday, with three takeaways and holding one of the more explosive offenses scoreless in the fourth quarter. It’s a win for a defense that has been maligned for its ineffectiveness at getting pressure on quarterbacks, and has just three sacks in three games.
That’s on Patricia, whose calling card has been as a defensive coach.
Steps forward — even small ones — are better than steps backward, and they’ll need another good defensive effort to stay with Sunday’s opponent, the New Orleans Saints, to turn a small step of an unlikely win into anything resembling the momentum they’ve struggled to gain under Patricia.
“We go through each week with the mindset to win and it felt really good to be successful out there yesterday,” defensive end Romeo Okwara said. “We get to enjoy for a day, and then it's off to the Saints.”
The focus is on Patricia, but he’s not taking the bait at being happy about one win. There were positives for the coaching staff, but there still are plenty of areas for improvement — and part of that is rallying the players through their small successes.
“For me really, I'm just happy for the players. Mostly in the locker room, you can just feel the joy and celebration for everybody; these guys work really hard,” Patricia said. “For me, I’m just obviously excited about the win and excited about everybody's efforts and the way the guys have worked this week.
“We came back and we started watching the tape right away, so you just kind of go into correction mode … but I was just really happy for the players. And I think they have general excitement and gratitude toward each other further.”