Back in 2017, Matt Patricia made the calculated decision to wear a shirt from the Barstool Sports online store featuring Roger Goodell with a clown nose. He made this choice after winning Super Bowl LI in stunning fashion. More specifically: having Tom Brady and the offense save his defense, which allowed 28 quick points to Atlanta, from itself. It was a juvenile and short-sighted sartorial choice, which infuriated Goodell and emerged as a topic of conversation when the long-time defensive coordinator interviewed for the Detroit Lions' head coaching gig.
But team president Ron Wood and general manager Bob Quinn were pleased with whatever explanation Patricia offered at the time, insisting it was a satisfactory response and wouldn't be an issue. The public was never given specifics and the coach himself has deftly sidestepped the question like a person who tucks a pencil behind his ear to presumably write on a laminated sheet of paper sidesteps logic.
I think I may know what was said and promised in those closed-doors meetings. I think Patricia promised to turn the joke around. To make himself the joke. To become the jester in a big top that's seen plenty of nonsense over the past 60 years. In short, he may have promised to become The Joker.
And not a cool Heath Ledger or Joaquin Phoenix one. Like a community theater player trying to channel the Jared Leto one and not selling it.
Consider the sad history of the Lions. Consider the historic ineptitude. Then consider that Patricia currently holds the third-worst winning percentage at the helm. Consider that he took over after two consecutive 9-7 years from Jim Caldwell and has posted a 10-25-1 record. Consider that his calling card as a defensive genius has been repeatedly torched by explosive and non-explosive offenses alike and is now beyond repair.
Yesterday brought, as it has so often, fresh hell for Lions fans. A quick start had them on pace to win 156-0. Then the defense allowed 35 straight points to a New Orleans Saints team without Michael Thomas and a significant portion of Drew Brees' arm strength. The embarrassing loss drops Detroit to 1-3 and all but assures another playoff-less season unless, by some miracle, the rest of the NFC becomes equally indifferent to winning football contests.
Predictability, which remains undefeated, brought us another disconcerting postgame with the embattled Patricia. Asked by WXYZ's Brad Galli why he is still the man for the job, the third-year coach offered:
“We just lost to the Saints. Let’s just give them credit for this game, they played extremely well and I know we got a lot of work to do. I think when I came to Detroit, there was a lot of work to do and that’s what we’re trying to do. But, talking about this year, we’re talking about right now, these first four games and obviously today wasn’t good enough.”
Look, it's tough to find the right words after losses. Especially repeated losses. But Patricia's inability to get himself through these events is another mark on the ledger and, in all likelihood, will be another crucial nail in the inevitable career coffin. There was some work to be done by inheriting a team that went 18-14 the two previous years. But, uh, it's not as if the cupboard was bare.
Jim Caldwell was fired for the sin of making a serviceable dinner with serviceable ingredients. He was like the second-place finisher on Chopped — not spectacular but competent. All Patricia has done since stepping into the kitchen is bleed into the food and insult the judges.
His premise is completely false. Don't believe me? How about former Detroit Lion and current constantly-on-television person Dan Orlovsky?
Patricia wants the credit for a play Malcolm Butler made five years ago. He doesn't want the blame for anything that's happened since then. He is, simply put, a finger-pointer when things go bad and a chest-thumper when it goes well.
This unhappy and unfruitful marriage is doomed. It's only a matter of time before the rocky seas land the fateful vessel on some jagged rocks. When that time comes, Patricia will surely point the finger elsewhere for blame. Anyone with eyes and sense will see the three pointed back at him, as if in homage to his pass-rushing plan, and remember it was the captain who couldn't handle the wheel or continue the previous captain's course.