The Detroit Lions are clinging to hope, and they should. It's their salvation at this point in the season.
They have finished the first quarter of the season with a 1-3 won-loss record, and it's hardly the start they wanted – or expected – under new head coach Matt Patricia
It's too early to give up on the season, but not too soon to wonder if the team we've seen in the first quarter – especially the defense – is the one we'll see for the full season.
Sunday's 26-24 road loss to the Dallas Cowboys did not present any hard evidence that the Lions aren't what their record says they are – again, mostly because of the defense.
This week's Monday Countdown looks at some trends that may have been established in the first four games and how they were highlighted in the loss to Dallas. There are also takeaways on the offense and defense, Eli Harold's lament on a key play that contributed to the loss, some highs and lows from the first quarter, how misery loves company in the standings and the biggest overreaction from the first four games.
We start with an observation that is not unexpected from Golden Tate.
1 Golden hands: He was downcast, even after a strong personal performance with eight catches out of eight targets for 132 yards and two touchdowns. He scored the Lions' first TD on a 45-yard catch for a 7-3 lead in the first minute of the first quarter. He gave the Lions a 24-23 lead with a 38-yard catch with 2:17 left.
"It's a long season," Tate said. "We're just now through the first quarter. As far as I'm concerned, we're still right there in the mix as far as our division. We've just got to come back home this week against a divisional opponent (Green Bay) and handle business.
"We've just got to play good football."
2. Division race: The Bears have been the class of the NFC North with a 3-1 record in the first quarter. They made a bold trade to acquire star linebacker Khalil Mack, and their second-year quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky, threw six TD passes in Sunday's blowout win over the Bucs.
After that, nobody has dominated. The Packers are 2-1-1 and the Vikings 1-2-1. The Lions can make a move up in the standings with a win at home over the Packers.
3. Must win, Game 5? Considering the Lions' record, and the fact that they're playing a division opponent, if it's not a must win it certainly ranks as better not lose. That's the dilemma of being 1-3, regardless of how it happened.
4. Sad stat, Sunday: Eight penalties for 58 yards, against only two for 20 yards for the Cowboys, was a stat that influenced the game. The offside on Harold led to a field goal for the Cowboys.
He was flagged for lining up offside on a third and seven at the Lions' 47. An incomplete pass on the play would have forced the Cowboys to punt. With the reprieve, they got the first down and continued the drive to a field goal.
Give credit to Harold for not ducking the media after the game, but obviously no penalty would have been better.
"It sucks, man," he said. "That's a pivotal point in the game. It's obvious it doesn't feel good at all. I thought I was ok. It's not like I jumped."
5. Three takeaways, offense:
Time lapse: It wasn't blameless. It scored a touchdown in the first quarter for a 7-3 lead, then hit the snooze button -- an old and enduring problem -- while the Cowboys were building a 23-10 lead.
More firepower might have expanded the early lead and forced the Cowboys to go away from the run, as they had in three previous games. That would have taken away Ezekiel Elliott as their primary threat and put the ball in Dak Prescott's hands That's a tradeoff any team would take.
Run game: It put up decent numbers overall – 20 carries for 95 yards and Kerryon Johnson's eight-yard TD run. But it wasn't consistent. Johnson had a 32-yard gain on his first carry, and the eight-yard run for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
That's 40 yards on two carries. Add a 17-yard run by defensive back Jamal Agnew on a gimmick play, and it's 57 yards on three carries. The other 17 carries gained 38 yards -- barely more than two years a carry.
Matthew Stafford: He missed two throws on third down early. After that, he was brilliant. 24 of 30 for 307 yards and the two TD passes to Tate. Tate described the two fourth-quarter scoring drives as "Stafford being Stafford."
6. Biggest overreaction of the first quarter: That Stafford has lost his touch on deep throws. Not worth arguing over.
7. Three takeaways, defense:
Run defense: It hasn't gotten better. It gave up 169 yards to the Jets in Week 1, and in the last three 190 to the 49ers, 89 to the Patriots and 183 to the Cowboys. That's 157.7 yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry. That's not winning football, and it doesn't control the game.
Coverage breakdown: Elliott ran past middle linebacker Jarrad Davis to make a 38-yard catch on the Cowboys' drive to the winning field goal.
"We had a matchup we liked," is how Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett described the play call.
That catch helped Prescott pass for 255 yards and break a streak of five straight games without hitting the 200-yard mark. It was also only the third time he's hit the 200-yard mark and the third time in the last 12 games.
Ziggy Ansah: The Lions miss a pass rusher and run defender. They did not force a turnover Sunday and have only three takeaways in the first four games.
8. First quarter highlight: Kerryon Johnson. He hasn't been the best player on offense, but he's a legitimate lead back with speed, elusiveness and power. The Lions have added the missing element to their attack.
9. First quarter lowlight: Defense. The pass rush has been good (13 sacks), but the inability to slow down the run game, let alone stop it, is a critical flaw.
10. Biggest first-quarter disappointment: Losing to the Jets, especially with rookie Sam Darnold making his first pro start and having an interception returned for a TD on his first pass. It's a game the Lions should have won, as the Jets' three-game losing streak since that win shows.
With a win over the Jets, the Lions would be 2-2 and where most people figured they might be after four games.