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Patricia reaches into bag of tricks, but Lions come up empty

Matt Patricia sounded like a guy who’d reached into his bag of tricks again and again and again – and then one more time until the hole in the bottom of the bag told the Detroit Lions’ head coach he was out of tricks.

That’s what part of Patricia’s press conference sounded like after the Lions’ 30-16 loss to the Los Aneles Rams at Ford Field.

It didn’t take a detailed scouting report to know that the Lions went into Sunday’s game as decided underdogs The Rams were 10-1 for a reason. And the Lions were 4-7 for a reason.

Those reasons were evident – especially in the talent differential on offense – throughout Sunday’s game. The Lions reached into their bag of tricks to even it up. It worked long enough for the Lions to make a game of it, but talent eventually won out, and the Rams had too much of it.

This week’s Monday Countdown looks at Patricia’s comments Sunday with second thoughts on some decisions and what it means for the Lions in the last four games. There’s also a look at bad fourth-quarter turnover stats for Matthew Stafford, takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, and a look at the Lions woes at home and the NFC North.

We start with Patricia’s comments:

1. Patricia’s point: He spoke forcefully – perhaps even passionately – about the effort his team gave on the field against a superior Rams team. He did not claim any moral victories. That’s not his style or mindset. He coaches to win.

He coached to win, and that meant taking chances. There were two onside kicks, a double pass, and a pass to offensive tackle Taylor Decker for a touchdown.

“That’s a really good team over there,” Patricia said. “I think we did a couple things today that we made some decisions on to try to be aggressive. Which I think is how you beat those teams that are really good.

“We had the surprise onside (after Decker’s TD with 3:02 left in the third quarter). We had the double pass – the pass back to the tackle (Decker).

“So look, we’re doing everything we can to try to win the game. And that’s the main thing.”

2. My take: There are legitimate questions about play calling on offense – especially with the run game – and not just Sunday. There are running plays in certain situations, such as long yardage, that don’t seem to fit the situation.

The Lions are short on talent at wide receiver, and the tight ends have seldom been the focus of the game plan. That limits what they can do. There is an occasional deep pass play, but there is no consistent deep threat that defenses have to account for on a down-to-down basis.

It’s likely that offensive wrinkles that were added Sunday are the start of what we’ll see in the last four games.

3. Onside kicks: No problem with the first one – a “surprise” onside kick after Decker’s TD catch late in the third quarter. Sam Martin took the blame for a bad kick that resulted in the ball traveling only seven yards.

The Rams got the ball at the Lions’ 38 and converted the possession into a field goal.

The second one was another matter. Matt Prater’s field goal cut the Rams’ lead to 23-16 with 2:54 left. Martin made a good kick up the middle, but the Rams made a good play to cover the ball at the Lions’ 45. From there the Rams drove to the clinching touchdown.

Obviously, Patricia had the situation thought out in advance. It wasn’t something he did on the fly.

He talked about the Rams’ potent offense, and the situation – the Lions have three timeouts and the two-minute warning on their side.

“Either way, we have to stop them, right?” he said.

My take: Patricia is right, that either way they have to stop them. But booming the ball into the end zone, as Martin can do, puts the ball at the Rams’ 25 instead of the Lions’ 45. It also could make the Rams more cautions, more conservative in calling plays.

After further review, kicking deep was the better option.

4. Takeaways, offense:

Receiver TD shortage: Kenny Golladay’s touchdown catch against the Carolina Panthers was the Lions’ only TD catch by a wide receiver in the last three games.

Stafford turnovers: Matthew Stafford’s fumble on a sack by Aaron Donald Sunday continued a trend of costly fourth-quarter turnovers. The Rams converted it into a touchdown.

Stafford had two interceptions in the fourth quarter of the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Bears. One was returned for the game-winning touchdown.

In Week 9 against the Vikings, rookie Kerryon Johnson couldn’t handle a lateral. Vikings defensive lineman Danielle Hunter returned it for a touchdown.

QB Hits: It’s been a while since Stafford was under siege, but that as the case Sunday. The Rams had nine hits and four sacks. Donald led the charge with two sacks and four hits.

5. Takeaways, defense:

Snacks attack: Damon Harrison is getting considerable Pro Bowl mention, and he should. He had another strong game – a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and a team-high seven tackles.

Diggs picks: Safety Quandre Diggs had a sack on the first defensive play of the season against the Jets. He got his second pick 653 plays later by snaring a deep ball thrown by Jared Goff in the second quarter. Diggs also had two of the biggest hits of the day.

Scoring: The Lions held the Rams to 16 points in the first 53:07. With the help of two short fields – on a fumble and an onside kick –- the Rams drove a combined 69 yards to score 14 points in the last 6:53. Both were on runs by Gurley, the NFL’s top running back.

6. Takeaways, special teams

No returns: The Rams kicked off seven times, and punted three times, and the Lions had zero return yardage. All seven of Greg Zuerlein’s kickoffs went into the end zone for touchbacks. Johnny Hekker had one punt downed, one go into the end zone for a touchback and one fair caught.

Net gains: Because of a touchback, Hekker’s net punting average was 43.7 yards. Sam Martin’s net average for six punts was 44.7. Martin had three punts returned for 18 yards.

The only point in this is that the only plays on special teams that made an impact were the onside kicks.

7.Home field advantage: For the second straight year, the inability to win at home has cost the Lions dearly. They were 4-4 at home last year, and that kept them out of the playoffs with a 9-7 record. They are 3-4 this year, with the final home game against the Vikings on Dec. 23.

8. NFC North: Regardless of everything that happened, the Lions were in the division race when they went into the Thanksgiving Day game against the Bears with a 4-6 record. They were out of it when they lost.

It’s the game of “what could have been?” now with the way the division is crumbling. All four division teams lost Sunday, leaving the Bears in first place at 8-4 followed by the Vikings (6-5-1), Packers (4-7-1) and Lions (4-8).

The Lions have earned their spot in the standings with their play, but imagine how different things would be had they beaten the Jets (3-9) in the opener and the Bears, with backup quarterback Chase Daniel, on Thanksgiving?

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