Opinion: Detroit Lions opener was a gut punch, but fans shouldn't panic

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Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett and columnist Shawn Windsor discuss Lions’ tie with Cardinals, late timeout call, Sept. 8, 2019 in Arizona.
Shawn Windsor and Dave Birkett, Detroit Free PressGLENDALE, Arizona — It can’t be over. Not again. Not so soon. Not on the first Sunday of the season, or a day earlier than the season ended last year, when the Detroit Lions opened on Monday night. No. Don’t go there. Not yet.  Even though you want to. Even if you need to. Even as you’re telling yourself you hope the Lions get blasted by the L.A. Chargers next week at Ford Field, then lose every game after that. You know, so Martha Ford will broom the front office and coaching staff and start over … again. No.  You don’t want that. Not after a single game. Because while this game feels achingly familiar — in the way greasy food feels familiar in the bottom of your stomach — the second go-round of the Patricia era didn’t quite begin like the first one. Really. It didn’t.  Besides, the Lions are technically rebuilding. Yeah, yeah, they’ve been rebuilding since before color television. And blowing an 18-point, fourth-quarter lead to the Arizona Cardinals — led by a rookie quarterback —  is inexcusable.  And yet? For most of three quarters Sunday afternoon, Matthew Stafford and T.J. Hockenson and Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola and Kerryon Johnson looked like they had a plan. And they did. Spread the ball. Run routes into open seams. Score.  Stafford looked like he did before last season. Amendola, the slot receiver by way of New England — we won’t count his single season in Miami a year ago — found pockets of space and scored on a 47-yard wheel route, finishing the touchdown play after a nifty cutback. More: 32 things we learned from Week 1 of the 2019 NFL seasonMore: NFL Week 1 winners, losers: Browns look sloppy against TitansMore: Sorting NFL Week 1’s best and worst debuts, from Kyler Murray to Adam GaseGolladay looked like Golladay and Jones made plays late, including a scoop catch as he dove. Then there was Hockenson, the Lions’ first-round pick in April, who combines route running with sticky hands, elusiveness and blocking ability. The rookie set an NFL record for the position, amassing the most yards ever in a debut. The Lions didn’t have a player like him a year ago.  Meanwhile, the defensive line and linebackers swallowed up the Cardinals’ rookie quarterback, Kyler Murray. They were aggressive and physical and smart, resisting his pass fakes and corralling him as he scrambled. By early in the fourth, the Lions were doing what they were supposed to: handling a middling team. And then penalties began to stall the Lions’ new offense. And Murray began to make plays. And the defeated crowd at State Farm Stadium began to rise and howl in … shock. Don’t blame them. They don’t know the Lions’ history.  Despite the shifting momentum and the rising decibels, the Lions had a couple of chances to win, including a third-and-5 with 2 ½ minutes left in the game. Yet when Stafford hadn’t snapped the ball with a couple of seconds left on the play clock, Patricia called for a timeout that nullified a first-down play. A play that would’ve sealed the game. Instead, the play after the timeout went nowhere and the Lions had to punt. Stafford was livid and appeared to tell his coaches they should’ve trusted him to make the snap before the play clock expired. It all looked so familiar, right? And while Patricia absorbed the blame for the mishap and for the loss in general — “bad coaching,” he said more than once; he’s right — that’s also an easy explanation. Yes, Stafford deserved the chance to make the snap. He’s played for a decade and has shown mettle late in games. And, yes, Patricia couldn’t adjust his defense when Murray began to find open receivers and scramble for first downs. But then Murray was the first overall pick in the draft for a reason. He’s got talent, too. He relaxed and stayed patient.  Cornerback Justin Coleman blamed a breakdown in communication and bemoaned that the Lions defense couldn’t make one more play. No doubt that’s true. And if you’re a longtime Lions fan, you’ve heard this kind of explanation more than you’d like.  Just once, you’d like to hear that sort of soundbite come from the other locker room, about how they were the ones that couldn’t make the defining play. You want to hear their coaches talk about correcting mistakes and watching film and getting better at “coaching.” So, yeah, it’s not hard to understand the pain and anxiety. It feels like a sick, cosmic joke. That the Lions found another way to lose. Oh sure, they didn’t technically lose. They tied. But if you asked the players, they’d tell you it felt like a loss.  In fact, Coleman did: “This tie is definitely like a loss to us,” he said. It is to you, too.  Still, there were the makings of a real team on the field Sunday afternoon in Glendale, Arizona. Maybe the makings of another 10-loss team. But maybe the makings of a team that could still surprise you. Give it another week or two before you bail. Let them lose to the Chargers and the Chiefs (gulp) and the Eagles first. If they do, if they start 0-3-1, take to the streets with garbage bags over your heads. Give your tickets away. Turn the channel. Yeah, the result is all that matters, and the tie (loss) happened in yet another creatively depressing way. Yet something appeared different in the desert this weekend. Wait a little longer to see if it was just another mirage. Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide

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