ARLINGTON, Texas – Detroit Lions receiver Golden Tate walked over to the sideline after his first touchdown, his coach, coach Matt Patricia in his ear. He had just celebrated with swagger, high-stepping as he broke one tackle and made another defender miss.
It had given the Lions an early lead in an eventual 26-24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys and was the start of a massive day by the Lions receiver. But in that moment, Patricia wanted to do some coaching.
Essentially, Patricia told Tate to not showboat, but after a game like Sunday’s that a tough ask. Tate caught eight passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns, celebrating before the end zone on each.
Tate has always walked that fine line of too much emotion and the passion he needs to make plays. He knows it. He understands it. It’s just that, sometimes, he forgets it.
“We want to play as a very disciplined group and that’s what everyone expects us [to do] and I got to lead by example,” Tate said. “I’m a leader on this team and I can’t show that to the younger guys and they think it’s OK. I got to fix it.
“At the end of the day, I am having fun, but I have to put the team first because if I bobble that ball and it goes out the back of the end zone or something happens, I get hit and that ball goes out of bounds and we don’t score, then I feel like a douchebag.”
But what Tate did Sunday — how he played, the emotion he showed — is what the Lions need. It’s what has made him the flashy receiver Detroit has leaned on the past four years, where he’s become a safety blanket for Matthew Stafford and the leader among receivers in yards after the catch.
It’s why what happened Sunday, with Tate scoring a go-ahead touchdown with 2:17 left and then watching a leaky defense falter the rest of the way, was so tough. Instead, the Lions couldn’t find Ezekiel Elliott deep, letting the Cowboys get into field goal range a make the winner as time expired.
“For me personally, this sucks, man,” Tate said. “Celebrating good stats by yourself is just no fun and to me, it means nothing. Celebrating a big win and having a bonus of stats, that’s what you want to do. We got a three-hour flight right now. We got to think about, dang, what we could have done better collectively.
“And although statistically, yeah, people look at it and say he had a great game. But there’s still some things I could have done better to help us win. So it sucks, man, but we’re going to have to flush it.”
What the Lions can’t flush — and need to continue to take advantage of — is Tate’s performance this season.
In Tate, the Lions have something special. Have for years. But beyond the playmaking, the forced missed tackles and the yards after catch is a consistency Detroit has sorely need.
Every year, he least 90 catches. Every year but one, he’s had 1,000 yards or more. And now, in the final year of his contract, he is on pace for the best season of his career. Through a quarter of the season, Tate has 28 catches for 389 yards — putting him on pace for 112 catches and 1,556 yards. That would obliterate his previous career-bests of 99 catches and 1,331 yards set in 2014.
“He’s a playmaker. That’s what he is. That’s what he’s always been,” running back Kerryon Johnson said. “That’s what he will always be. You never know when it’s going to happen, but you know it’s going to happen whenever he touches the ball.
“So all we got to do is get it in his hands, which we did, and he produced.”
He was a big reason the Lions were in the game Sunday at all — Stafford finding him again and again throughout the game, catching every one of his targets. But on Sunday, despite all he did, the Lions’ defense — a concern since the beginning of the season — failed Detroit again, sending the Lions to 1-3 and in a must-win game next weekend against Green Bay.
Tate insists, despite what he did — despite what Detroit’s offense did — the Lions could have done more there to win.
“The perspective we look at when we lose games is that there is still something else we could have done,” Tate said. “There’s more we could have done. We had, we put up 24, so we scored three touchdowns and a field goal. That’s four possessions. We had more than four possessions in that game, right?
“Those other possessions that we didn’t score, we could do something better. I’m not sure what the stats were on three-and-out or third down, but that’s something we could have done better. That’s something I focus on and my group can focus on is there’s more out there that could be had.”
And with the Lions looking as they are — a potent offense and a struggling defense — Detroit might need it to happen if it wants to turn around its season.