That good feeling the Detroit Lions generated for themselves and their fans when they ended last season with a 31-0 victory over the Green Bay Packers carried over for about four plays of this year’s first preseason game.
That’s when the offense began to implode, and the defense got manhandled by the New England Patriots in a 31-3 loss that was not one bit closer than the final margin indicated.
The Lions simply misfired on an opportunity to launch Matt Patricia’s second season as head coach with some momentum against the defending Super Bowl champs.
What we learned is that it’s a new season every year, no matter how the last one ended or what moves have been made in the offseason in the draft and free agency. What looks good on paper – and what the Lions did in the offseason looked very good – has to be proven on the field.
Among the other things we learned: The injury risk is present with every step on the playing field, even in a supposedly meaningless preseason game; that the depth the Lions have been trying to build still might be a work in progress; and that Patricia had no regard for the score when he threw the challenge flag late in the game.
We start with the Lions fizzling:
Things looked good for the Lions for a bit. Tom Savage, starting at quarterback in place of Matthew Stafford, connected with slot receiver Brandon Powell on third down with a pass that went for 24 yards and a first down at the Lions’ 45.
It was a sharp pass, and a good catch and run by Powell, who showed late last season that he might have a place on the roster as a valuable role player.
And that’s when the brakes came on. There was the first of nine sacks on first down, then a holding penalty against left guard Kenny Wiggins that wiped out a good run by rookie running back Ty Johnson. The possession imploded and ended in a punt.
That was about it for the Lions’ offense. They finally got on the board with a field goal with just over two minutes left in the game.
Before that, they’d given up nine sacks, got only one in return by their defense, and had a net of 21 yards passing – with 81 yards in sacks deducted from the 102 yards Savage and David Fales threw for combined.
The final spread in offensive yards was 459-93 in favor of the Patriots.
“Obviously, a long night for us,” Patricia said. “Not the way we wanted it to go.”
The 9-1 discrepancy in sacks might have been one of the worsts lines on the stats sheet. It showed how thoroughly the Patriots dominated the game.
“You want to win up front,” he said. “Those guys did a good job up there. We have to do a better job on our side of the ball defensively.
Depth chart: It’s a reality, not an excuse, that the Lions played without most of their top defensive linemen. That might be one reason the pass rush was almost nonexistent.
But the projected starting offensive line played the entire first possession, and veteran backups played extensively. The nine sacks allowed should be a concern about depth until proven otherwise. That goes for the entire roster.
“Guys who had an opportunity tonight, they have to go out, and they have to play well,” Patricia said. “That’s the bottom line. It’s your opportunity to go out and show us what you can do.”
View photos from the Detroit Lions vs. New England Patriots Preseason Week 1 game at Ford Field on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019 in Detroit.
One man’s opinion: After a performance like Thursday night, any player competing for a starting job or roster spot has to be glad that this isn’t a year when the NFL played only two preseason games.
Injury bug: The leg injury sustained by wide receiver Jermaine Kearse on the fifth snap demonstrated again that the fortunes of a player and a team can change with every step on the field.
Kearse gave the Lions depth at receiver. He had experience in Darrell Bevell’s offense from their days together in Seattle and has been a reliable veteran with experience in big games.
Patricia also said he is waiting for more information on the injury sustained by Savage on a sack that ended his night in the first half.
Challenge: Patricia threw the challenge flag late in the fourth quarter when he thought there might have been defensive pass interference on a pass thrown to rookie receiver Travis Fulgham. After reviewing the play, the non-call on the field held up.
Patricia said he threw the flag, even with the game out of reach, to get more information on how the officials make the interference call. He’ll get more input from the league on the play in the weekly report.