SportsPulse: In a battle of generations, the young gun Patrick Mahomes takes on the G.O.A.T. Tom Brady for the AFC title. NFL insider Lorenzo Reyes breaks down who has the edge and who will come out on top.
Matt Patricia told us to watch the playoffs. So I watched the playoffs.
And I didn’t like what I saw.
There was beauty and grace and power. There was good defense and awe-inspiring offense.
And none of it resembled the Detroit Lions. It was so hard to even imagine the Lions competing on the same level as any of the teams in the first two rounds of the NFL playoffs. (Yes, I know they beat the Julian Edelman-less New England Patriots in Week 3.)
Maybe it’s just a case of the winter Honolulu blues, but I felt depressed after watching two weekends of another Lions-less postseason. May 23 will mark the 10,000th day since the Lions last won a playoff game: a 38-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 5, 1992.
And it feels even longer than that.
What’s worse is that after watching these playoffs it doesn’t feel like the Lions are any closer to ending their playoff-victory drought. They missed the playoffs last season and still managed to finish this season as the eighth-worst team in a league designed to achieve parity.
I thought watching the playoffs would cleanse my palette, or at least wash the bad taste of the Lions’ 6-10 season from my mouth. Instead, it’s been another bitter pill.
The first weekend, the Lions got the gut punch of Eric Ebron’s touchdown catch in the Indianapolis Colts’ victory and Golden Tate’s winning touchdown catch for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Fine. Just one weekend. It couldn’t get worse. Yet, somehow it did.
Even though Ebron and Tate weren’t big factors in their teams’ losses, watching the elite play in the divisional round just accentuated how far the Lions are from reaching this level of football.
What did Patricia tell us at his season-ending news conference?
“Watch through the playoffs,” he said. “Most of the teams that win in the playoffs are teams that run the ball and win the big games in the end. I have been on good sides and bad sides of both of that. And teams that can run the ball, stop the run, control the game towards the end of the season are really, I think, the teams that will have the most chance to win.”
OK. Some of that happened. The winning teams all had good rushing, stopped the other teams’ run games, and they controlled time of possession.
But all of that was a byproduct of high-octane offenses we’ve seen all season from the Kansas City Chiefs, the Los Angeles Rams, the Patriots and the New Orleans Saints. These four teams averaged 30.5 points this weekend and they’re led by quarterbacks who are either future first-ballot Hall-of-Famers or the two of the youngest and brightest stars.
I especially looked closely at what the Patriots did in their 41-28 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s plainly obvious the Lions want to be the Pats, and the Pats did exactly what Patricia described and what he would like to do.
New England won the game in the first half. The Pats controlled time of possession: 20:11 to 9:49. They ran the ball down the Chargers’ throats, with Sony Michel gaining 105 of his 129 yards before halftime. In the passing game in the first two quarters, Edelman had 107 of his 151 receiving yards and Tom Brady was 23 of 29 for 233 yards and one touchdown as New England jumped to a 35-7 lead.
And just to rub it in, Pro Football Focus named Pats linebacker and former Lion Kyle Van Noy one of their divisional-round standouts, along with Rams defensive tackle and former Lion Ndamukong Suh and Eagles cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc, whom the Lions waived in November while keeping Teez Tabor on the roster.
Another PFF standout was Edelman, who looked like a sorcerer in the slot and who I couldn’t stop thinking about. The Lions can’t replicate Brady or Bill Belichick. Maybe they can get Kerryon Johnson to be as productive as Michel. But the key for the Pats on Sunday was Edelman. Yet, the Lions traded away their own version of Edelman in Tate, who is two years younger and even more productive than Edelman.
The one silver lining to the Lions’ season was their revamped defense, which showed some life after Damon Harrison’s midseason arrival. Here’s where the Lions might have some hope.
Although the teams with the better defense, based on total yardage, only went 1-3 this weekend and are 3-5 so far in the playoffs, I don’t think the Lions believe defense alone is the answer. Patricia wants complementary football, with all three phases working together.
I like this thinking, in theory. Maybe it will work. Maybe something, anything, will finally work for the Lions. After all, we’ve been waiting for nearly 10,000 days. So what’s the harm in watching a little longer? But if Larry Warford scores a touchdown for the Saints, I’m turning off the TV.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.