The Lions offense was really missing a spark on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. That spark was Golden Tate.
The Lions offense struggled against the Seahawks in Week 8, but what kept them alive in so many cases was Golden Tate. You could argue that the day would have been so much more worse for Stafford and company if they didn’t have the ultimate safety valve in Tate, who caught seven passes for 50 yards and helped convert two third downs.
Just before the trade deadline, the Lions decided to trade Golden Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles for a third-round pick. This was a move that obviously came with a lot of hurt feelings from the fans and stunned players in the locker room. But in the end, it seemed like the right thing to do for the future.
But as the Lions went into Minnesota on Sunday, we saw that this trade was going to do a lot more to hurt today’s team than some believed. After the game, it seemed like the Lions were doing everything they can to put on a happy face and act like it wasn’t a big deal.
“He’s a good player, but he’s not on our team.”
This was Matthew Stafford’s response when asked about Tate after the game.
Matthew got sacked 10 times in this game. There’s a lot of blame to go around for that. Some of it had to do with the Lions’ offensive line, and a lot of it had to do with Matthew himself.
One of the clear-cut reasons Stafford was hit so many times is because he lost his check-down opiton. No matter what kind of trouble Stafford was in, Golden Tate would be right there to dig him out of it. A check-down to Tate is no normal check-down, Tate was able to take a normal looking dump-off and turn it into so much more.
On Sunday, it seemed like Stafford was looking for Tate out there on the field, or at least looking for someone to take Tate’s place. Nobody could do that. It led to Stafford hanging on to the ball too long. In some cases, it led to Stafford trying to do too much, like the fumbled pitch to Kerryon Johnson.
It seems crazy to think that a team could fall off so badly after losing just one player, and so many fans convinced themselves that wasn’t a big deal. I think the Lions themselves tried to do that, too.
After the game, still, Lions head coach Matt Patricia assured the media that they were comfortable without Tate, because they knew they had a lot of good players on the roster. The team repeated a similar mantra all week and will likely continue to after this.
One has to wonder if this is the kind of move that will someday be referred to as one of the many reasons general manager Bob Quinn is on the hot seat. I would certainly say it’s not fair to put him there now based on his draft record and some of the signings and trades he’s made. It really looks like the Lions have an actual plan, for once, that doesn't just include “maybe next year.”
But if everything fails, we may look back on the Tate trade, and this game will serve as a reminder of where it all started to go wrong. The Lions and Bob Quinn will no one to blame but themselves, even if they did spend most of the time saying it was alright.