FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It may have been his last game in New England, and Matt Patricia wasn’t ready for it to end.
The Patriots defensive coordinator went back onto the field long after the AFC championship was over and the team had advanced to the Super Bowl for the sixth time in his tenure.
There, he tossed around a football with his son before flopping onto his back on the confetti that had fallen during the team’s celebration.
“(It was) just fun to have him out there running around and just seeing the excitement that he had to be out on the field,” Patricia said this week as he tried to maintain his focus on the Super Bowl and not his expected next step: as head coach of the Detroit Lions. “That’s always just kind of a special little moment for myself and him and my wife.”
Most identifiable by his bushy beard, backward-facing ball cap and cargo shorts or cutoff sweatpants no matter what the weather, Patricia will be on the Patriots sideline on Feb. 4, when they face the Philadelphia Eagles in an attempt to win their sixth NFL championship.
Then he will reportedly be hired as the Lions head coach.
Patricia has declined to comment on the Detroit job other than to confirm that he “went through the process that the NFL allows us to go through during the bye week.”
The Lions confirmed that they interviewed Patricia and reportedly informed the unsuccessful candidates, but they cannot make it official until after the Patriots are done playing.
“We’re just trying to get the win,” defensive lineman Trey Flowers said on Friday. “That’s all it’s about here.”
But for Patricia, that’s not all it’s about.
Players say he takes a special interest in them, talking to them not just as players but also asking about their families.
“It’s not just to coach you up,” linebacker Elandon Roberts said. “That’s a must for him. That shows what kind of man he is outside of the building. He takes pride in us as players, but he also takes pride in us as people.”
Taking a rarely followed path to the NFL, Patricia graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with four varsity letters and an Aeronautical Engineering degree.
He bounced around a few colleges in the Northeast before landing on Bill Belichick’s staff with the then-defending Super Bowl champions.
Moving up through the team’s coaching ranks, he became the Patriots defensive coordinator in 2012.
Before most every game, Patricia walks up to every player on the sideline and shakes his hand.
“It just lets us know he has our back,” safety Duron Harmon said. “He has our back; we’ve got his back. It’s nothing more than just a relationship that he’s built with everybody throughout the defense.
“And when you’ve got that from your coach, knowing that he’s going to go down for you and you’re going to go down for him, it makes you want to go out there and lay it down for him.”