Before he was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Deshaun Watson was an unproven first-round pick carrying the burden of comparisons to Michael Jordan. Then he faced Matt Patricia's defense. Dabo Swinney, who said prior to the 2017 draft that the Browns would be passing on Jordan if they passed on Watson, has been right ever since.
Watson was going to take off either way. He's just that good. But his career was launched in New England, in Week 3 of his rookie season. After struggling in his first two starts, Watson threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns in a three-point loss to the eventual AFC Champs. 45 games later, he hasn't looked back.
"He’s really unbelievable," Patricia said Monday. "I’ve played him for a number of years and really, during his rookie year, he broke onto the scene against us and just had a phenomenal game."
Now they meet again, on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. Their first encounter was Watson's hello. The second might be Patricia's farewell. A loss to the 3-7 Texans, on the heels of a loss to the 3-7 Panthers, amid a third straight disappointing season, will likely spell the end of another failed experiment in Detroit.
It would be a fitting way for Patricia to go out. A purported defensive expert, his defenses have been shredded by great quarterbacks from the moment he arrived. (Quarterbacks of all kinds, really.) Might as well add Watson to the list, and then throw the list into a fryer.
In Year 1 for Patricia, the Lions faced two quarterbacks who finished the season with a passer rating of 100.0 or better. Their record: 0-2. In Year 2, they faced four quarterbacks who finished the year with a passer rating of 100.0 or better. Their record: 0-4. And this year they've faced three quarterbacks with a passer rating of 100.0 or better. Their record: you guessed it.
All told, 0-9. As for those quarterbacks: 173 of 262 for 2,345 yards, 18 touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of ... 114.12. But wait. Expand that sample to quarterbacks with a passer rating above 99.0, and Patricia's Lions fall to 0-12 and that collective rating creeps up to 115.2. Watson enters Thursday's game at a career-best 108.6, the sixth highest mark in the league.
"The thing about this guy that is amazing is how competitive he is all the way through the game," Patricia said. "It doesn’t matter the situation, this guy always has that mentality that he’s going to make a play to win -- and a lot of times he does."
And a lot of times the Lions don't. Blown leads have been their trademark under Patricia, who has spent more time in Detroit talking about 'winning football' than implementing it. The Lions do so many things poorly these days you can't even see the things they do well.
The same could be said of the Texans, who have the second worst defense in the NFL and the second worst rushing attack. But they also have a quarterback at the top of his game, which generally means game-over for Patricia. This time, it should be for good.