ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- After almost every loss, the refrains are the same from Matt Patricia. His Detroit Lions have to play better; have to execute better. He has to coach better. It has been the same script almost weekly, maybe a word or phrase changed, clichés and all.
It’s also become all too common for the Lions, since Patricia is 13-28-1 in his almost-three seasons as a head coach. Patricia says it all the time. Except nothing changes to actually make the Lions play better, coach better or execute better.
Not with any consistency, at least. Not with enough consistency to denote anything resembling true progress.
“Look, we’re going to go out there every day and try to do the best we can to improve and that’s the bottom line, that’s what we do,” Patricia said. “So from that aspect of it, we’ve got to go to work. We’ve got to do some things better and go out and practice it and go out and perform it.
“That’s what this game is.”
Football is a game that has gone continually poorly under Patricia. His vision is not coalescing. It hasn’t at any point in his tenure -- and whenever Patricia is asked about it, he has no tangible answers for it.
Just more of the coach-speak he’s so accustomed to saying.
It’s one of many problems for a Lions team seemingly at bottom Sunday after a 20-0 loss to Carolina, even with the Panthers missing their starting quarterback, running back and left tackle.
Detroit is stubborn with its offensive game plans even when those plans are ineffective -- like Sunday, when the Lions ran Adrian Peterson on back-to-back plays on three of their first four possessions. Detroit still can’t put together a competent defense for four quarters -- the Lions allowed first-time starter P.J. Walker to complete 70.6 percent of his passes. Detroit still can’t exploit an opponent’s clear weakness -- the Panthers entered Sunday last in the league in third-down defense but the Lions converted just 21 percent of their third down opportunities.
Some of that is on the players, but more is on coaching and the head coach whose job has been on the hot seat for the large majority of his tenure. So how safe does Patricia feel now, at 4-6 with a third season ostensibly close to lost?
“For us, just kind of focus one week at a time on all that stuff,” Patricia said. “I’ve had a philosophy for a long time. I go to work every day to earn my job. That’s just what I do. That doesn’t matter if it’s coaching, doing engineering, I don’t care if I’m in school.
“Look, I’m just going to go to work and work hard. We all know that. We know that we’re in the NFL, that’s what it is. So we have to go do better.”
Does he feel he’s earned the right to keep his job moving forward?
“I mean, again, I’m just going to do what I do here and just go to work here. We’re going to get on the plane; we’re going to grade the film. We’re going to get back [Sunday night] and get ready to go.”
Based on the metric his boss, owner Sheila Ford Hamp, gave in June of expecting “major improvement,” the Lions haven’t shown it. With each passing week, it feels more and more improbable the improvement will come. Indeed, the Lions haven’t won more than two games in a row in during Patricia's entire tenure.
It’s been like this since the beginning, when the Lions lost to the Jets, 48-17, on Monday Night Football in Patricia’s debut. It’s been like this in the middle, with an 11-game losing streak and over a year between victories at home. It’s been like this now, after being shut out by Carolina, where it’s starting to feel potentially close to the end.
The answer is fairly simple. The Lions haven’t gotten better. If anything, since he took over for Jim Caldwell before the 2018 season, all Detroit has done is gotten much, much worse.