DETROIT – With a little more than eight minutes remaining in the third quarter Monday night, the Detroit Lions lined up for third-and-1 from their own 34-yard line. Matthew Stafford was in shotgun, with running back Theo Riddick to his left. The Lions had three wideouts, but the New York Jets knew not to be too concerned about them.
This was a formation the Jets had seen the Lions run previously, in years past under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who was retained by new head coach Matt Patricia. Or maybe it was in preseason play. Or maybe both. It didn’t matter.
Third-and-short, and the Jets said they knew the play would be a short pass to Riddick coming out of the backfield, with wideout Golden Tate running a rub route/pick on the linebacker – in this case, Darron Lee – to create space for Riddick.
The Jets had watched film and practiced against it all week. Lee had become adept at slipping the pick and jumping the route, but he kept dropping potential interceptions, arriving a fraction of a second too late. As he saw the formation, he vowed this would be different. So, too, did safety Jamal Adams who began shouting at Lee in case he was unaware of the play the Lions were about to run.
“I told him, ‘Here it comes,’ ” Adams said.
Lee, however, didn’t need reminding. This was too obvious. As the play unfolded, Lee first identified Tate and jumped to avoid him. He then ran directly to the spot in front of Riddick where he thought Stafford would throw. As he arrived, so did the ball.
This time Lee secured the interception and turned the other way, racing 36 yards for a pick-six. Adams trailed him all the way, screaming in delight. As they crossed into the end zone, he tried to tackle his teammate only to crash into the padded wall.
Afterward they sat in the Ford Field visitor’s locker room and smiled and laughed and celebrated.
New York 48, Detroit 17.
As the Lions tried to figure out what happened to create a nightmare of a season opener, the Jets just toasted a night out of their wildest dreams – Detroit all but telegraphing its plays and making all the Jets’ prep work pay off. The result was five interceptions of Lions quarterbacks, including four of Stafford.
“We were calling out their plays as he was getting up to the line,” Lee said.
“Film study,” Adams said. “The offense paints a picture. They give us little tips.”
They gave more than little tips. These were huge signs. The Jets stepped in front of routes, blew up screen passes and jammed running lanes.
A lot has to go wrong for an NFL team to get humiliated like the Lions did on Monday night. And a lot did. The Lions couldn’t run the ball (39 yards), couldn’t tackle well (they were scorched by long plays) and couldn’t compete on special teams – they yielded a punt return touchdown and missed two field goals.
Most horrifying for the Lions, though, was that here in the opening game of Patricia’s tenure, Jets coach Todd Bowles and his staff just annihilated them in preparation, game plan and execution.
“That’s called studying,” cornerback Trumaine Johnson said. “That’s called studying.”
The normally reliable Stafford looked lost. The supposedly revamped running attack went nowhere. Defensively, the Lions were an equal mess. They gave up a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown, a 62-yard rush for a touchdown, a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 41-yard pass for a touchdown. They allowed 31 points in the third quarter alone.
They were basically doomed from the start.
As coaching debuts go, Patricia’s was about as bad as could be imagined, and not just because of the final score or the general mood of the place. Lions fans began booing early. Then often. Then loudly. Then eventually hardly at all because most of them just left rather than keep witnessing the slaughter.
And this was without even knowing their offensive game plan was so easily decoded that Stafford was lucky to complete much of anything.
There were enough New York Jets fans still in the house at the end, however. They gathered in the empty seats behind their team bench and chanted “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!” over and over and over again.
It was insult added to humiliation.
“There’s not a lot to be happy about here as far as that’s concerned,” Patricia said. “I think in general, all of it just has to be better. Just start from the top and work our way down. I don’t think there’s anything you can say other than it’s all just execution, and coaching and all that stuff has to be better from that standpoint.”
It has to be way better, and it starts with the coaching staff. The players were putrid but there is no compensating for this.
Detroit went 9-7 in each of the past two seasons. Stafford is a top-line quarterback, maybe not Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but good enough to command a $135 million contract. The Lions dumped coach Jim Caldwell because they didn’t think he could take them to the next level.
So in came Patricia, the defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. General manager Bob Quinn arrived from Foxborough the season before. This woebegone franchise that has won just a single playoff game since 1957 turned to Bill Belichick’s machine to turn things around.
Instead, the Lions started in the complete wrong direction, even against a Jets team that went 5-11 last year and was starting 21-year-old rookie Sam Darnold, who was so nervous his first pass was a pick-six – one of the few bright moments for Detroit.
The Lions still got mauled. Physically, yes, but even worse mentally and even worse than that in coaching game plan.
Detroit was so predictable the Jets knew all the plays, knew all the routes, knew all Stafford’s hand signals and tells. Detroit was so bad a Jets team that had such low expectations had players reminding each other to cut the route.
“Oh-and-16 is out the door,” Adams said.
Well, not for the Lions. Not if they are going to show up for games with the other team calling out their playbook.
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