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Lions make smart decision in retaining head coach Matt Patricia

Lions retain Matt Patricia
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford announced on Tuesday that the team will retain head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn for the 2020 season.

This isn’t as much unexpected as it is interesting timing for the Lions. They find themselves at 3-10-1 and in a free fall since starting the season with a 2-0-1 mark.

Delving into it: Hired from the New England Patriots before the 2018 season, Patricia certainly deserves another season to prove his worth for the Lions.

That’s the biggest takeaway here. Detroit obviously decided to go with the Patriots model by hiring Patricia and Quinn away from New England in the first place. There’s no reason to quickly jump ship on that idea.

One more chance: One could easily conclude that Patricia deserves a mulligan for his second season with the Lions.

  • Detroit has been forced to go with former undrafted free agent David Blough under center for each of the past three games after Matthew Stafford suffered a back injury.
  • No one in their right mind could have expected different results from a quarterback in Blough, who struggled in college with Purdue.
  • Remember, this came on the heels of Stafford putting up a tremendous start to the season under Patricia and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
  • The Pro Bowler was on pace for nearly 5,000 passing yards with 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions before going down to injury.

The injuries: While this can’t be used as an excuse, it helps explain away the Lions’ struggles.

  • Other teams (hello, 49ers) have dealt with numerous injuries this season. They have still been able to have success.
  • What separates the Lions from this pack is that they don’t have the depth to make up for said injuries. Such is the nature of the beast in a rebuild.
  • Detroit heads into Week 16 with a whopping dozen players on injured reserve. That doesn’t even take into account Stafford and other prominent players currently sidelined.
  • It’s hard to win in the NFL with these types of injuries. It’s even more difficult in an NFC that now includes four 11-win teams.

So close: Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that Detroit was among the best early-season stories around the NFL.

  • The Lions started this season with a 2-0-1 record, including wins over the Chargers and Eagles. That’s two teams most expected to compete for division titles in 2019.
  • Detroit followed that up with narrow losses to the Chiefs and Packers (five points combined) before the injury bug started to hit big time.
  • The NFL is a win-now business. You’re only as close as your most-recent loss. We get that. But there’s something to be said about the Lions playing competitive football when they had all hands on deck.

Bottom line

When you’re building from the ground up, it makes absolutely no sense to change philosophy midstream. New regimes need a minimum of two seasons to build their foundation. For the Lions, that included a renewed culture under Patricia and a rebuild on both sides of the ball.

Let’s look at Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers as a recent case study. After a promising start to his career with five consecutive wins to end the 2017 season, the 49ers fell off the map last season. They won just four games. It’s a season that included injury after injury, even to their franchise quarterback.

San Francisco’s brass righted the ship by retaining both Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. It was not even in question. The 49ers are now a top-end Super Bowl contender.

While we have no idea whether the Lions will turn it around under Patricia, it’s too early to know. Jumping ship on an organization-wide change of philosophy makes no sense.

Starting anew after less than two full calendar years also makes little sense.

Teams that have done that find themselves bogged down in irrelevance in today’s win-now NFL. At the very least, the Lions are keeping with the model they sought to build when hiring Patricia in the first place.

It’s now up to him to steer the ship in the right direction and avoid the icebergs that have sunk this organization over the decades.

If that doesn’t happen, the Lions will be having a different conversation this time next year.

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