The story of the Matts in the hats

There are two smart guys on the Detroit Lions roster and both are named Matt.

One was drafted, one was hired, but during games, they wear hats.

At times this year, they’ve looked sharp and made you say ‘look at that.’ But last week in Minnesota, the Matts in the hats fell flat.

This season looked like it could be a pretty good one for the Lions. The Lions had a franchise quarterback in Matt Stafford, a new head coach in Matt Patricia, they had a strong receiving corps led by Golden Tate (who is now with Philadelphia), they drafted a running back with lots of potential in Kerryon Johnson and the front office seemed genuinely enthusiastic about making the team better.

On paper, it probably is better, but real life is vastly different. In the season opener, Detroit got a pick-six to take an early lead on the Jets’ first possession, and then it was all downhill from there as Stafford threw four picks and New York revealed that they knew what play the Lions were running before the ball was snapped. In his first game as coach, Patricia and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter figuratively handed the Jets the Lions’ game plan and said ‘have at it.’

The Lions stumbled again against San Francisco, another team they should’ve handled easily, but then something incredible happened. Detroit beat New England, the defending NFC champs in a night game, which means almost every football fan got to see it and it wasn’t some dream that Lions’ fans had. Patricia outcoached his mentor, Bill Belichick, and Stafford looked like he was back to himself, hitting targets with ease and putting up points on the scoreboard. Two weeks later, the Lions looked great again in their win over Green Bay (Packers kicker Mason Crosby on the other hand, did not) and took down the Dolphins on the road. Not as noteworthy as the win over the Patriots, but still, a win is a win.

Since then, the Lions have looked awful. Detroit looked terrible against Seattle at home in a game where the Lions couldn’t stop shooting themselves in the foot and then there was the debacle in Minnesota last week, a game I call the Prank at the Bank. Why do you ask? Because the Lions fooled me into believing that it was going to be a great game at U.S. Bank Stadium and all it did was take three hours of my life. I’m never going to get that time back, so well played Detroit.

Not to open a wound again, but let’s look back at that loss to the Vikings. In the game, Stafford was sacked 10 times. 10! Heading into the game, it was well-known Minnesota had a strong defense, but this was a whole new level as the Vikings had a clear path straight to Stafford the whole day. Stafford didn’t help matters either as he made the biggest mistake of his season so far. With the Lions trailing by a manageable deficit (11 points), Stafford took the snap and rolled right. Not surprisingly, the Lions O-line acted like a bunch of matadors, waving their capes as the bulls of the Vikings D stampeded by them. I’m not sure if Stafford panicked here or if he just wanted to avoid being crunched again, but he pitched the ball to Johnson. The rookie wasn’t expecting the pitch and the ball sailed behind him where Minnesota recovered it and ran it back for a touchdown. That play summed up how the day went pretty nicely.

Most of the blame for the loss falls on the O-line and on Patricia, who looked overwhelmed on the sidelines, and at times had this wide-eyed look on his face that said ‘I have no clue what to do.’

He was already facing criticism after the loss to the Seahawks and didn’t make it any easier on himself as he criticized a reporter for having what he perceived as bad posture during a press conference.

After the Lions got pounded, the Detroit News roasted Patricia with the headline “Poor posture” and used a photo of Stafford lying on his back. Yeah, it’s not good to go after the media when your team is struggling Matt. Belichick can get away with being a jerk to reporters because he’s won multiple Super Bowls. You’re in your first year as a head coach. Win a playoff game first, then maybe act like you’d rather be hit by a bus than talk to the press. Just fake it till you make it.

Meanwhile, the other Matt (Stafford that is) didn’t look great either. It wasn’t just the brain fart he had pitching the ball to Johnson, he just looked off his game for the second straight week. The farthest pass he threw last week was just over 20 yards and he missed. Stafford is known for chucking the ball downfield like a madman and he’s pretty good at it. I know your biggest receiving threat (Tate) is gone now, but c’mon Matt, at least try to go deep a couple times a game. Just because Golden left doesn’t mean your golden arm needs to disappear too.

Are Patricia and Stafford entirely to blame for the Lions’ failures right now? Of course not. As I’ve already said, the O-line is a gigantic sieve and the defense is shaky.

However, those two are the leaders and the faces of the team. When the two guys at the top are falling flat, it makes the whole team look bad.

I don’t think the season is completely down the tubes and there’s still an outside chance at a Wild Card berth. Not to mention that the NFC is surprisingly balanced with good, but not great, teams, so if the Lions do manage to stumble their way into the playoffs, they might be able to keep up with the other teams.

However, to do that, everything needs to turn around and it starts with the Matts in the hats.

The Matts’ wallets are fat, but last week, they fell flat and after the game, on the sidelines they sat.

But before they say ‘drat,’ and stay splat on the mat, there’s still games to play for the Matts in the hats.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.