DETROIT — It was a long night in the Motor City for the Patriots, but their hosts gave them a preview of things to come in short order.
Defensive guru Matt Patricia and his offensive coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter, scripted a near-perfect game plan, including an outstanding opening drive that set the tone for the game and gave the Lions a lead they were never in jeopardy of losing.
The 12-play, 65-yard journey featured excellent balance with five runs and six passes, and if not for Patricia’s conservatism (he passed on going for it on fourth and inches), it probably would have resulted in a 7-0 lead rather than a 3-0 advantage.
Though the home crowd didn’t like the decision at the time, it turned out to be an afterthought as Detroit raced to a 13-0 lead en route to a 26-10 victory. The boo birds, much like the Patriots on offense, were silent for the rest of the night.
Detroit’s offensive line was outstanding on the march, bullying the Patriots on run plays and stifling the pass rush when Matthew Stafford dropped back.
The balance was back for the second drive, a nine-play march that featured five passes and four runs and ended with Stafford’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Golladay that gave the Lions a 10-0 lead that felt much larger.
The play-calling mix was near-perfect all game long — the Lions passed 36 times and ran 33 times — with Stafford selling the play-action to let the run set up the pass. He hit on 12 of his first 13 tosses.
Detroit finished its first-half mastery with a 71-yard drive that led to another field goal and a 13-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the Patriots offense was stuck in neutral, starting with three straight three-and-outs, a stretch of futility not seen in the Tom Brady era.
“You make it hard on yourself if your start in a hole,’’ said Devin McCourty. “They keep driving down the field, field goal, touchdown, and then our offense going three [and out]. It’s just hard to win as a team when that happens.
“We are not helping each other. If our offense goes three and out, we have to go get a stop and get them back, so they can get into a rhythm. That’s what’s hurting us right now, complementing each other to help each other out.’’
Upon further film review, here are some other things that stood out as the Patriots fell to 1-2 for the first time since 2012.
■ The Patriots rarely won the battles in the trenches on either side of the ball, and their lack of physicality and missed blocking assignments were glaring at big moments.
Early in the second quarter and already staring a 10-0 deficit, New England faced a third-and-1 at the Lions 33. At the snap, Detroit tackle Ricky Jean Francois obliterated right guard Shaq Mason and pounded Sony Michel for a 1-yard loss.
On the Patriots’ final drive before intermission, they finally showed signs of life, pushing the ball to the Detroit 16 when they again were faced with a third-and-1.
A toss right to Michel failed again as tight end Dwayne Allen whiffed on his block of Tavon Wilson and nobody got a body on fellow safety Glover Quin as the duo combined on a 2-yard loss.
It was a momentum killer (the Patriots settled for a field goal), and all the good feelings the drive had created came to a crashing halt.
On the other side, Detroit’s interior three of center Graham Glasgow, left guard T.J. Lang, and right guard Frank Ragnow were brutish. The trio consistently won their one-on-one matchups, creating space for a ground game that hadn’t yielded a 100-yard rusher since the 2013 season.
For a snapshot, take LeGarrette Blount’s 5-yard run early in the second quarter. Ragnow gets his hands into Keionta Davis’s chest and pushes him laterally across the line of scrimmage before finishing him off. Ragnow’s feet are moving as quickly as Blount’s for the duration of the play.
A rookie first-rounder, Ragnow played like a seasoned veteran and dominated at the point of contact against the lineman and at the second level against the linebackers.
■ Bunch formations gave the Patriots fits.
The Lions had success stacking receivers on one side and creating space in the flat with some rubouts. For example, on the first drive, Detroit stacks Kenny Golladay, Golden Tate, and a third pass catcher out left. At the snap, the unidentified receiver engages Ja’Whaun Bentley, driving him back. In doing so, it also screens Jonathan Jones, who can’t get around the bodies to cover Tate in time.
■ Tate was tremendous
The versatile Lions receiver has tremendous quickness, burst, and elusiveness. Tate has sure hands and nearly always makes the first guy miss and also excels at breaking tackles.
■ Setting the edge was again a problem.
Lions rookie Kerryon Johnson not only showed toughness on inside runs, he flashed the speed to get around the corner. He consistently beat New England’s linebackers to the edge to convert third-down chances.
■ It wasn’t all bad for the visitors.
There weren’t a ton of them, but the Patriots will be able to look at the film and see some highlights.
Bentley turned in one of the top plays on defense with his third-quarter interception. The rookie dropped into coverage into the path of a Stafford laser heading toward tight end Luke Willson.
If Stafford had put a little more air under it, he might have had a big play, as there was no center fielder around.
Brady turned in the best offensive play on the ensuing possession. Facing a third-and-8 from the 10, Brady hit James White with a laser ball for New England’s lone touchdown of the night.
White scooted out of the backfield and was picked up by safety Quandre Diggs, who actually had pretty decent coverage. The throw was nearly indefensible, however, as Brady put it on a line where only White could snag it.
Perhaps no play summed up the night more fittingly than the intentional grounding penalty called on Brady in the fourth quarter.
From the back overhead view, Brady clearly is targeting Cordarrelle Patterson on a deep route down the middle. Patterson, however, breaks off his route and pulls up 15 or so yards from the line of scrimmage as the ball sails over everyone’s head — and with it went any chance of a New England comeback.