They dubbed it 'Dagger Time,' those fourth-quarter moments that determine the outcomes of games and seasons. They made it their mantra for the 2020 season. They were so enamored with it they plastered it in giant letters on the walls inside Ford Field.
Then Dagger Time became Danger Time, Damage Time, Disaster Time.
Like a 15-minute replay of last season, the Lions turned a 23-6 fourth-quarter lead into a 27-23 loss to the Bears Sunday to kick off the 2020 campaign.
They said this wouldn't happen this year. They vowed it would be different. Shame on any of us for believing them. The Lions blew six fourth-quarter leads in 2019, the most in the NFL, and picked up right where they left off in 2020.
They changed their defense drastically in the offseason. They brought in new faces on offense, too. They hired two new coordinators. The most obvious constant is Matt Patricia, who began his post-game press conference Sunday saying the same old thing.
Gotta coach it better, gotta execute it better. Starts with me.
It does. And it continues to end with him just before the finish line. The Lions held a lead in 14 games last season and finished with three wins. Remember the season-opener? They took a 24-6 lead over the Cardinals into the fourth quarter.
And flushed it down the drain in 15 minutes.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
As hard as it is to win in the NFL, it might be even harder to give this many wins away. But Patricia's teams keep finding a way. At this point, it's fair to wonder if the man on the sideline is the one costing the Lions in Dagger Time.
"I don't think so. I think I got probably one of the biggest plays in the fourth quarter in the history of the NFL where I think I did a pretty good job," Patricia said. "So I don't think it's that."
That play would be Malcolm Butler's game-winning interception in the dying seconds of Super Bowl XLIX. Of course, that was Bill Belichick's defense. What have Patricia's defenses done in Detroit other than collapse when it matters most?
No, seriously. What have they done otherwise? The Lions don't get after the passer, they don't stop the run, they don't force turnovers, they don't do much of anything besides yield yards and points and soul-crushing touchdowns.
As always, there were more culprits Sunday than the defense. Matthew Stafford can't throw that interception. D'Andre Swift can't drop that pass. And if we're being fair, Detroit was playing without its top three corners by the end of the game.
But the constant, again, is Patricia. He's the central figure in all these fourth-quarter collapses. He addressed that depleted secondary by switching inexplicably from zone coverage to man. And his decision to attempt a 55-yard field goal with a 10-point lead and four minutes to play proved to be the spark that Mitch Trubisky and the Bears needed.
"Felt that it was an opportunity for us to really be aggressive, which I think we tried to do, and make sure that we're going out and trying to win the game," Patricia said. "It certainly was within our field goal range. ... There's a bunch of plays in there that all kind of compounded on top of each other."
And so it goes. Stafford looked so gutted after this one he could barely muster any words at the podium. Dagger Time was his creation, and it's often been his strength. He's delivered several daggers under Patricia -- he all but delivered another one Sunday -- and only has scars to show for it.
The quarterback would never point the finger at anyone other than himself, but there was a hint of frustration in his voice when asked if the coaching in key spots needs to improve.
“No. I mean, we probably drill situational football more than anybody in the NFL," he said. "I think we are covering the bases, we just have to go out there and make it happen.”
Stafford's right. Patricia talks so much about 'situational football' it's hard to imagine any team placing a bigger emphasis on it. And yet for all that practice, for all that coaching, the situations keep getting away from them.
"Last year's last year," Patricia said. "It's a totally different team. I think we know that all the games are different."
Different and yet the same, wash, winse, repeat.