FOXBOROUGH — The NFL’s No. 1 defense was no match for what has become the league’s best offense Sunday at Gillette Stadium as the Patriots defeated the Lions, 34-9, running their winning streak to seven games.
In the process, the Patriots continued to show that their current six-game stretch of games — a make-or-break run that included three games against division leaders and two more road games against teams in playoff contention — is much more make than break.
As in, they’ve made themselves into the AFC’s front-runner with the postseason beginning in little more than a month.
They’ve also broken — shattered, really — the post-Kansas City-loss notion that they’re a team in trouble.
“So many people said how bad we were,’’ Vince Wilfork said. “Everything possibly negative people could say, they were saying about us. Our No. 1 job was to block out all the noise, ignore it, and just concentrate on what we need to do to get better. That was our No. 1 goal, and that’s still our No. 1 goal.
“[Nine] weeks later and we’re one of the best teams in the league, the same people that were saying we were the most terrible team in the league now are patting us on the back. We don’t have room for them. We don’t have room for bandwagoners.
“This team that we have now is a tough football team, mentally, physically. Bill [Belichick] asks a lot of us and we give a lot. We knew what it would take to turn it around, and we did it. It was just putting one foot in front of the other each week and not worrying about what people say about how bad we are, how good we are. It was never about that. It was about us coming in here as a team and getting better as a team.”
Detroit came into the game having not allowed more than 24 points, 25 first downs, 335 yards passing or more than 67 plays in any game this season. The Patriots eclipsed all of those marks.
The Lions scored first, getting a 48-yard field goal from Matt Prater on the game’s opening possession, a drive that included a 17-yard pickup by Golden Tate on third and 5.
After that, however, things changed.
The Patriots didn’t score on their first two possessions, but did on their third, with two third-down conversions. The first, on a Tom Brady-to-Julian Edelman pass, kept the offense on the field, and the second was a Brady-to-Tim Wright touchdown.
Wright was left wide open in the middle of the end zone on goal-to-go from the 4, and caught his fifth touchdown of the season, and first of two on the day.
Wright was just as open on his second TD, which came in the second quarter and put the Patriots ahead, 21-6.
Asked how Wright always seems to find himself so open in the end zone, Brady chuckled and said, “We ask ourselves the same thing.”
Wright had five catches for 36 yards Sunday; on the season, the second-year tight end acquired from Tampa Bay in the trade that sent Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers, has 23 catches on 26 targets, with six of his receptions — more than a quarter — going for scores.
New England scored 17 points in the second quarter, taking firm control of the game. The home team went into the locker room at halftime leading, 24-6, and the Lions never challenged in the second half.
The Patriots’ other two touchdowns came from running back LeGarrette Blount, who was re-signed Thursday after he was released by the Steelers on Tuesday. Blount got 11 carries and had 77 yards, the bulk of that on two long runs.
As expected, the Patriots did not challenge Detroit’s run defense, and in total rushed the ball just 19 times. The other eight carries were given to Shane Vereen; after oversleeping on Friday and being sent home by Belichick, Jonas Gray was active but never took the field.
“This is one of the few times that I stand up in front of you and don’t have at least some bright spots to talk about,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said in his news conference. “We didn’t have many in this game. Didn’t play well in terms of our kicking game and overall defense and also offense as well.
“We sputtered. We were not as sharp as we are capable of being, and that’s a good football team. They played extremely well, they don’t give you much.”
Despite having some big-name players on offense, the Lions have been inconsistent offensively for much of the season. Sunday, they started their second possession on their 45 after the Patriots punted from deep in their territory, but the Lions went backward: after an incomplete pass on first down, Joique Bell picked up 3 yards on the ground, and on third down the Patriots collapsed the pocket quickly, with Akeem Ayers getting a sack for a 11-yard loss.
Between some bad throws from quarterback Matthew Stafford (18 for 46 for 264 yards), drops from his receivers, and some stellar defensive play in the secondary for New England, the Detroit offense had trouble sustaining drives.
Darrelle Revis, lined up on Tate for the majority of snaps, broke up four passes. Brandon Browner, who was lined up on Calvin Johnson frequently, was credited with two. The front seven held Bell to 48 yards on 19 carries.
“They’re playing great,” Brady said of the Patriots’ defense. “It’s amazing what they’re able to do with another team’s passing game and shut the run down and really kind of suffocate the passing game. We see it in practice, so I’m glad some other people have to go against it, too. They’ve got really good cover guys, good scheme, they’re athletic and they played great today.”
Earlier in the week, former Patriots safety James Ihedigbo, a first-year Lion, crowed about his unit’s status as the NFL’s top-ranked defense, saying they had earned that spot. He said the game was just as much a litmus test for New England as for the Lions.
Don’t think the words went unnoticed in Foxborough.
“A slap in the face,” Revis said. “Stats are stats, they were No 1, they’re probably still No. 1, I don’t know. But at the same time, we know we’ve got a great defense and we have to continue to keep on pushing. We feel like we can match up with anybody across the board, and we feel like we can out-execute.”
Revis, who played on some good defenses with the Jets, said this New England secondary is the best he’s been part of, and the entire defense might be the best as well.
“Guys are just in tune and focused and love to play football. We come to work, we come to work every day, and that’s how we have to look at it — ‘Coaches, hey, what we need to do to win?’ and that’s how we look at it,” Revis said. “You see it on the field. You see it paying off.”Follow Shalise Manza Young on Twitter at @shalisemyoung.