Twenty-six thoughts on the Patriots’ 26-10 loss to the Lions . . .
1. With about five minutes remaining and Tom Brady already in full-on heave-it-up-and-hope desperation mode (the only surprise was that it wasn’t Matthew Slater running the hopeless go routes), Cris Collinsworth asked the question on the NBC broadcast that Patriots fans will be asking all week: How good are the Patriots really?
2. Right now, the generous answer is “not very.” The sarcastic answer? They were so bad Sunday night that Rob Gronkowski would be justified if he decided he wanted to go to the Lions after all.
3. The Patriots are 1-2, with a victory over still winless Houston, an understandable loss to the Jaguars, and now this thoroughly embarrassing loss to a previously winless team that they were supposed to thoroughly embarrass. This feels bigger than one surprising loss.
4. If they have an identity at the moment, it’s that of an offensively uninspiring team that lacks top-end talent around Brady, Gronkowski, and to a degree James White, with a star-free defensive group that looked so slow Sunday night that LeGarrette Blount looked fast. Oh, and at least Sunday night, they were dominated on both sides of the line by a Lions team that was not supposed to be able to stop the run or run the ball themselves.
5. How good are they? Maybe we should be patient before answering that, because no one is going to like the answer right now. The brutal loss to Kansas City in 2014 will be cited by the optimists this week — after all, the Patriots went on to Cincinnati, and all the way to victory in the Super Bowl.
6. But that team had a younger Brady, Gronkowski, and Dont’a Hightower, and a pre-knee-injury Julian Edelman, and Darrelle Revis, and Chandler Jones and . . . well, this feels like an underwhelming roster by comparison.
7. Perhaps the Patriots will get their act together, beat the 3-0 Dolphins next week, and reestablish themselves as the team to beat in the AFC East, if not beyond. But right now, they don’t look like they even have an act to get together.
8. It was probably prudent to sit Josh Gordon, who was inactive. But even on 1½ good hamstrings and a rudimentary knowledge of what Brady expects him to do, I have absolutely no doubt he would have been more effective than the players who dressed at receiver Sunday night.
9. What stinks is that they’re now relying on the most unreliable player in the league.
10. Some of the Patriots’ current limitations at receiver are tough to blame on them. Jordan Matthews and Kenny Britt got hurt, Malcolm Mitchell stayed hurt, and Edelman got suspended. But when you look at this offense flounder, it’s difficult not to wonder how much Brandin Cooks would help, even if they weren’t going to keep him long term.
11. Some of the personnel questions the Patriots have to answer became questions in the first place because of curious decision-making. It’s nuts how close they came to trading Gronkowski to the Lions in an offseason deal, as reported by Adam Schefter Sunday.
12. You’d think they’d be gearing up to win another Super Bowl or two while Brady is still extraordinary, but Cooks, Danny Amendola, and Dion Lewis departed without being replaced by anything close to equals. And they came that close to trading Gronk? That’s bizarre, bordering on shameful.
13. Is Hightower finished as a quality defensive player? He’s looked slow all season, but never more so than when Lions running back Kerryon Johnson just ran right by him, no move necessary, for 14 yards in the second quarter.
14. Hightower has been a terrific Patriot, but he’s the embodiment of their defensive issues right now: He’s late and slow, and when you’re late and slow, it either looks as if you’re out of position or not all that interested in making the play. It’s not fair, but that is how it looks.
15. The Patriots spent way too much time in the first half trying to make Sony Michel happen. You can see the hints of the talent the first-round pick flashed at Georgia, but he was hurt during camp and still looks like someone who is unsure and playing catch-up. He had 7 carries for 10 yards in the first half along with a catch for minus-1 yard.
16. I’m not ready to call him Sony Maroney like former WEEI host Mike Adams did on Twitter, but that might have been a job for Rex Burkhead or James White for now.
17. The most egregious play came on third and 1 from the Detroit 16 with 51 seconds left in the first half. Rather than sneaking with Brady or some other alternative, the Patriots ran Michel wide. He lost 2 yards, with nondescript former Patriot Tavon Wilson being one of the Lions to bury him.
18. Love to know what was said and who said it at halftime, because the Patriots came out fired up for the second half. Deatrich Wise Jr. howled like a madman after the Patriots swarmed Blount in the backfield. On the next play, Ja’Whaun Bentley picked off Matthew Stafford, and we started remembering that momentum does exist in the NFL and the Patriots are experts at seizing it.
19. It carried over to the offense, too, for that fleeting drive anyway. Michel started the drive with a 12-yard burst, Gronkowski had a 19-yard grab (and something to say about it) on first and 20, and finally, Brady threw a dart to James White for a 10-yard touchdown reception. Somehow, as poorly as they played, they trailed just 13-10.
20. I thought Al Michaels must have been exaggerating when he said during the pregame that the Lions “have been looking for a running game since Barry Sanders retired.” After all, Sanders retired 20 years ago. (Yup, it’s been that long now.)
21. But Michaels was telling the whole truth. The Lions’ best back since Sanders juked and spun his way into retirement is probably Kevin Jones, who averaged 3.6 yards per carry and about 750 yards per season from 2004-07.
22. Maybe there’s hope on the current roster given that Johnson became the first Lions back since Thanksgiving 2013 to run for 100 yards in a game.
23. Blount had a 9-yard catch for a first down on the Lions’ fourth play from scrimmage. I suppose that counts as the element of surprise considering Blount had just 19 catches during his four seasons with the Patriots.
23. Not that the feeling lasted. After a second straight three-and-out to start the game for the Patriots, Stafford led the Lions on a smooth nine-play, 60-yard drive that culminated with a Kenny Golladay touchdown catch.
24. Brady entered the game with 66,670 regular-season passing yards. He ended the first quarter with 66,669 regular-season passing yards, having been held to 1-for-4 passing for minus-1 yard.
25. The Lions’ decision to kick a field goal on fourth and inches from the New England 21 on their first possession seemed passive at the time. Stafford went 5 for 6 for 44 yards on the drive, and the Lions covered 65 yards on 11 plays against the Patriots’ undermanned secondary.
26. Keeping the Lions to 3 points must have felt like a victory to the Patriots defense. Little did we know it was about the only victory they’d have all night.