Practice does not make perfect, but it helps.
That’s the unsurprising thing we learned about the Detroit Lions in their progression from a dreary performance in a 31-3 loss to the Patriots at Ford Field in their first preseason game to Saturday’s 30-23 loss to the Texans.
A loss is a loss, even in the preseason, but the Lions were an improved team in Week 2. They still weren’t anything close to the level they’ll need to be at when they open the regular season at Arizona in three weeks, but playing better is a step forward.
Among the other things we learned: Pro Bowl players such as Lions cornerback Darius Slay and Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins like to compete head-to-head, no matter when or where; rookies Travis Fulgham and Will Harris have the potential to help the team; and what seems like a tough opening opponent one week in the preseason looks like a pushover the next. And neither is certain to be accurate.
We start with improvement: The stats showed it, and so did the eye test.
The Patriots had a 26-8 advantage in first downs and 459-93 in yards gained. It was much closer against the Texans – 22-18 in first downs, and 410-388 in yards gained, with the Lions on the short end – again -- in both categories.
The Lions never were in the game against the Patriots, who rested their quarterback Tom Brady. Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson played only the first possession and led the Texans on a 75-yard drive that was capped off by a TD pass to Hopkins.
The biggest difference for the Lions was in sacks allowed – nine against the Patriots, only two against the Texans.
Head coach Matt Patricia wasn’t thrilled with everything he saw, and rightfully so.
“I definitely think there were some more competitive snaps out there on the field, and some plays that are really good plays,” he said. “No doubt. And some players that were making those plays and kind of stood out, which was great.
“In the end, too many bad plays – obviously.”
There were some rough edges. The defense once got flagged for having 12 men on the field. And Patricia had to call time once in the second half after a break for change of possession. That’s something that should never happen.
That cost the Lions a chance to call time on their final possession, when they drove inside the Texans’ 40 for their final play.
That could have cost them an important game had it been the regular season.
We’ve learned all too often how those lapses have cost the Lions in the past.
On the cover: Slay and Hopkins battled during the two days of joint practices, and they went head-to-head again early in the game.
Slay came out a winner, batting away a sideline pass from Watson that was meant for Hopkins. A few plays later, Slay broke up a sideline pass with a hard hit. Hopkins was not involved in that play.
Rip job: Patricia is an advocate of winning the turnover battle, which is why the Lions have what seems like an unending variety of drills designed to create turnovers.
Defensive end Romeo Okwara ripped the ball loose on a turnover that rookie safety Will Harris recovered and returned for the Lions’ first touchdown.
“We have been trying to work really hard at that stuff,” Patricia said. “Some of the techniques with the turnovers today were actually executed, the stuff that we practiced.”
Rookie return: Harris knew Okwara was in the area, but he didn’t know he was the player who caused the fumble that resulted in his touchdown return.
“I just saw the ball laying on the ground.” Harris said.
Harris showed good instincts to head for the end zone – and the speed to outrun the Texans pursuing him.
He celebrated with his teammates, and in the excitement didn’t keep the ball.
“I don’t know what I did with it,” he said. “Hopefully, somebody kept it.”
“It was just a back-shoulder throw, when I got to the sideline,” Fulgham said. “I just want to keep on doing what I was doing in college.”
On second thought: Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray completed six of seven passes for 44 yards in the Cardinals’ win over the Chargers in their opening preseason game. That spelled real trouble for the Lions, who open the regular season at Arizona.
It was a different story in the second game. Murray completed three of eight for 12 yards in a loss to the Raiders.
In a week’s time, the Cardinals and their rookie quarterback look like the opener might be a soft spot in the Lions’ schedule.
Things change fast in the NFL. They always have, and always will.