Matt Patricia has probably never felt worse than he did after Week 1 as the the Detroit Lions coach. Led by 21-year-old quarterback Sam Darnold, the lowly New York Jets curb stomped Detroit on Monday Night Football, 48-17.
But Patricia has also probably gotten pretty close to that feeling in his previous Week 1 performances.
Strangely, therein lies the sliver of good news for Lions fans. Patricia has a history of horror in Week 1 as the New England Patriots defensive coordinator. In the seasons when his defense was truly horrific, the Patriots ultimately got their act together in time to make a Super Bowl run.
In 2014, the Patriots opened their season with a 33-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Ryan Tannehill, then in his third year, combined with Knowshon Moreno methodically beat the Patriots defense into submission. Tannehill threw for 178 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Moreno rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown, and Caleb Sturgis hit four field goals. A few weeks later, the Patriots got blown out by the Kansas City Chiefs, 41-14. Alex Smith, running backs Knile Davis and Jamal Charles and tight end Travis Kelce walked all over the Patriots defense. Trent Dilfer said the Patriots weren’t good anymore. Bill Belichick said “onto Cincinnati” (a lot of times). Many games later, Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson in Super Bowl XLIX, and the Patriots won a Lombardi Trophy.
That year, New England finished 13th in yards allowed and eight in points allowed during the regular season. They may have looked abysmal in the first four weeks, but Patricia’s defense looked mighty different entering the playoffs. In fact, they looked mighty.
In 2017, New England underwent a similar transformation. Coincidentally, they got stomped by the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1. Kareem Hunt enjoyed his breakout performance when he had 243 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Alex Smith put together a great first game (368 yards, four touchdowns) on the way to one of his best seasons of his career. The Patriots, meanwhile, got embarrassed and ashamed. It wasn’t pretty in the weeks that followed. They allowed 20 points to the Saints (not bad, considering how good that offense was), then 33 points to the Deshaun Watson-led Houston Texans and then 30 points to the Carolina Panthers.
Somehow, during the regular season, the Patriots allowed 18.5 points per game, fifth best in the NFL, while allowing 366 yards per game, fourth worst in the NFL. Ultimately, they couldn’t keep that up into the Super Bowl, when the Philadelphia Eagles won, 41-33, over the Patriots. Still, it was a successful season for New England and their defense. The Lions would be happy to finish in the Super Bowl, even if they lost.
The one name I haven’t mentioned yet is Bill Belichick. Because surely, the Patriots head coach helped out significantly in the Patriots’ turnaround, particularly on defense. That’s Belichick’s forte.
So while Patricia was a part of that turnaround, it’s hard to know whether he was the agent of change and growth. He will need to be that agent in Detroit as they figure out how to do literally every single thing better in the upcoming game in Week 2. They’re not short on talent — they have the quarterback and the personnel to turn things around.
The question is: do they have the coach?