The difference between good NFL teams and bad ones is small but discernible, and it has nothing to do with talent.
“Only thing that separates this league is like I said, from the neck up,” Detroit Lions linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “It ain’t nothing else.”
One of 11 winless teams through two weeks, the Lions have been losing the “neck up” battle this year.
They’ve committed 20 penalties, shot themselves in the foot countless times with silly mistakes, and seen those gaffes compound to blow double-digit leads.
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Lions coach Matt Patricia lamented his team’s inconsistent play Sunday, saying it was not doing a good job dealing with the ebbs and flows of football.
“We can’t ride the wave of the game,” Patricia said. “We can’t go up and down and be really high and then something happens and then go really low and try to pick it back up, and then something good happens and go really high again. Just the ebbs and flows of the game, we’ve got to ignore that. We’ve got to stay consistent. We’ve got to not think about the end result before we get to the end result. We’ve got to think about that play at that moment and stay in that moment, and that’s something we have to do.”
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In Sunday’s 42-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Lions committed a series of blunders late in the first half and into the third quarter that ultimately cost them the game.
Matthew Stafford took a bad sack. Oday Aboushi committed a foolish penalty. Will Harris followed with two personal fouls. And one Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass opened the door for two more Packers scores: a 75-yard run and interception return for touchdown.
The sequence, which covered less than 8 minutes of game time, was reminiscent of the Lions’ meltdown a week earlier against the Chicago Bears, when Stafford took a bad sack, Matt Prater missed a long field, Mitchell Trubisky led two late scoring drives, one after a Stafford interception, and D’Andre Swift dropped the potential winning touchdown pass as Chicago rallied from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit.
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“We’re not consistent enough,” safety Duron Harmon said. “That’s whes down to, especially when you’re playing a good team like that. You’ve got to be consistent in all facets of the game, offensive, special teams and defense.”
Ragland, who won a Super Bowl last season with the Kansas City Chiefs, said the Lions are “close” to clearing the mental hurdles that have held them back so far this year.
“Everybody believes in one another, but we just got to go out there and play and we can’t worry about what anybody else has to say,” he said. “Like, I think sometimes we can get caught up in what others say. Who cares what the others say? As long as we got each other in this locker room, we got this coaching staff, we got the players and the organization, we just got to keep believing and keep fighting and everything’s going to come out the way we want it to be.”
Ignoring the negativity will be especially key this week, as a large segment of the public already has given up on the season.
The Lions visit the undefeated Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, and Ragland reiterated a point he made last month, when he said he sees “the same qualities in this team as In Kansas City” last year.
“Nothing’s missing, we just got to go out there and just play (bleeping) ball, man,” he said. “That’s all that is, and we just got to stay together and we can’t unravel when things are not going our way. We got all the daggone pieces, we just got to go play.”