Lions vs Cardinals: Detroit Lions vs Arizona Cardinals Matt Patricia has always treated the NFL season like a marathon, doing his best early in the year to build up to a strong finish.
It’s a sensible approach. Postseason success is all that matters in this league, and the best way to ensure that is to be playing your best football late in the season.
But as the Detroit Lions open Year 2 of the Patricia era Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, it strikes me that there may not be a more important game that he will ever coach.
Last year, the Lions got off to such a bad start that it spoiled the season. They were tired from training camp and fighting the buy-in, and it showed in a pitiful performance on the field.
a group of people standing around a fire: The Lions open Year 2 under head coach Matt Patricia on Sunday in Arizona.© Gregory Shamus, Getty Images The Lions open Year 2 under head coach Matt Patricia on Sunday in Arizona.
Gift-wrapped an opening game at home, on “Monday Night Football” against a bad New York Jets team starting a rookie quarterback, the Lions imploded in such spectacular fashion that it defined the narrative in the months ahead.
Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions. The Jets piled up 48 points. And fans gave up hope right then and there.
Well, the NFL appears to have done the Lions another solid, setting them up with a second straight cake of an opener against one of the two worst teams in the league. This time, it’s a gift Patricia and his team must unwrap.
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The Cardinals are coming off a 3-13 season and devoid of talent across the roster. Their offensive line is a sieve, their secondary is short-handed and they’re starting a rookie quarterback in a rookie coach’s new-to-the-NFL system.
a football player running on a baseball field: Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions in the Lions’ 2018 season opener, a 48-17 loss to the Jets.© Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions in the Lions’ 2018 season opener, a 48-17 loss to the Jets.
Maybe quarterback Kyler Murray revolutionizes the NFL with his unique athletic ability. Maybe coach Kliff Kingsbury is the second coming of Vince Lombardi. Maybe together they take the league by storm, and I don’t doubt they’ll give the Lions a few fits Sunday.
But this is a game the Lions — even on the road, with no meaningful film of coach or quarterback to study — have no business losing.
I don’t think they will. But if they do, it could have serious repercussions.
a group of football players on a field: Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray during practice Monday in Tempe, Ariz.© Rob Schumacher/The Republic Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray during practice Monday in Tempe, Ariz.
It’s not that the Lions can’t recover from a season-opening loss. Starting 0-1 is not a death knell for any NFL team given the parity across the league.
But considering the tone and tenor of last season, the Lions’ schedule over the next month and the fragility of a fan base waiting for something to grab hold of, yet looking for reason to bail, Sunday’s game against the Cardinals is as must-win as Week 1 games come.
After Arizona, the Lions host a Los Angeles Chargers team that won 12 games last season, and even without two of its best players, is expected to contend for the AFC West title. Then it’s on to Philadelphia, where one of the NFC favorites awaits, before coming home to host Patrick Mahomes and the most fashionable pick to win the Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs.
a man wearing a hat and glasses: Lions coach Matt Patricia looks on before the exhibition game against the Bills at Ford Field on Aug. 23.© Raj Mehta, USA TODAY Sports Lions coach Matt Patricia looks on before the exhibition game against the Bills at Ford Field on Aug. 23.
An 0-4 start heading into the bye, with a Monday night game in Green Bay on the other side, would have talk radio mouths howling and fans looking forward to the snooze that is the Pistons season. But even if they steady themselves in September, a miserable performance in the Arizona desert will cast a pall over the rest of the year.
The Lions saw enough of an attendance decline during last year’s regression that they decided to hold ticket prices mostly steady this offseason. Fans kept an arm’s length during training camp, and one local radio station even spent part of this week giving away tickets to the Sept. 15 home opener.
A loss to the Cardinals would be cataclysmic to an organization that’s done plenty right this offseason, with both fan outreach and the product on the field.
The Lions made a handful of roster moves that have the optimism bubbling again. Their defensive line should be stout, first-round pick T.J. Hockenson looks legit, and there’s hope Stafford is headed for a rebound.
a close up of a man: T.J. Hockenson was the Lions’ first-round pick in April, taken No. 8 overall.© Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press T.J. Hockenson was the Lions’ first-round pick in April, taken No. 8 overall.
Patricia did a thorough self-evaluation of what went wrong in 2018, too, and has made some noticeable changes in his approach. He embraced more media opportunities, which have softened his public image, and most importantly, he made several well-received changes to his players’ schedules.
All of that is nice but will go for naught if the Lions struggle in their start to the season again.
I don’t know how competitive they’ll be during the season, though I do expect a better performance overall. But if the Lions lose to Arizona, the sense of hope that’s inherent in September will be utterly and completely lost, perhaps for good.