DETROIT — Bill Belichick stressed all week the need to get out to a better start against the Lions. He said it to his players in practice, said it in news conferences, and said it in a pregame radio interview. They couldn’t afford another slow start like they had in Jacksonville last week, when the Patriots fell behind, 24-3.
Belichick can say it until he’s blue in the face, but the Patriots can’t do much about it now. Sunday night’s 26-10 loss to the Lions was about as ugly as it gets for the Patriots’ offense, as they fell behind, 13-0, in the first half and didn’t have the firepower to dig their way out.
“We just didn’t do anything well,” Belichick said. “Didn’t give us a chance to win. Similar situation last week, playing from behind. Going to have to work our way out.”
The Patriots find themselves in unfamiliar territory, sitting at 1-2 for just the third time under Tom Brady and Belichick (2001, 2012). And they have lost two straight games, displaying a shocking lack of punch on offense.
“Two weeks where we get behind, and just not making enough plays early in the game, and we’re behind just fighting the whole way,” a dejected Brady said after throwing for just 133 yards. “It’s no way to play football. It’s not a way to execute at a very high level. We’re just not doing anything well enough.”
Sunday night’s loss was the Patriots’ ugliest since that Monday night game in Kansas City in 2014. The Patriots briefly made it a game early in the third quarter, with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Brady to James White cutting the deficit to 13-10.
It was just like in Jacksonville, when the Patriots started making their comeback in the third quarter. But that comeback fizzled out, and the one on Sunday night barely got started. The Patriots went punt-punt-interception-turnover on downs on their next four toothless possessions after the touchdown.
“We had a chance, but it’s just a little too late,” center David Andrews said. “Just not executing, not good enough. Just got to get back to work. It’s all you can do. Can’t sit here and feel sorry for yourself.”
The Patriots’ defense played an equal part in this loss, allowing the Lions to march up and down the field at will — holding the ball for 39:15, gaining 414 yards, and orchestrating five length-of-the-field, clock-chewing drives.
But the defensive struggles were almost expected on a night when the Patriots were missing two of their best players, Trey Flowers and Patrick Chung.
The offense, though, has no such excuse. Julian Edelman is still out with a suspension, but the Patriots weren’t missing any other players against the Lions. The starting offensive line was in. Rob Gronkowski played. Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson played. James White, Rex Burkhead, and Sony Michel all played.
Yet the Patriots’ offense, as currently constructed, has little explosion. Brady’s 133 passing yards tied for 16th fewest in his career (293 games, including playoffs). Gronkowski couldn’t get open, catching four of his five targets for 51 yards. Michel had two drops and a lot of east-west running. Dorsett was shut out, with no catches on five targets. The Patriots only had 12 first downs and 209 yards, and went 2 of 9 on third downs.
And Brady hasn’t been able to get the ball to his playmakers. White, one of the team’s best weapons in the passing game, had just three catches on three targets for 14 yards and a touchdown.
“You’re right, he’s got to be involved,” Brady said. “The guys who can make plays, those are the ones who should be involved, and James is certainly one of them.”
This team has two reinforcements on the way. One is Edelman, who has one game left in his suspension. The other is Josh Gordon, acquired via trade last week but made inactive for Sunday night. He is battling a hamstring injury and may not know much of the Patriots’ playbook yet, but it probably couldn’t have hurt putting him on the field Sunday night, if for nothing else than as a decoy.
But Edelman and Gordon probably won’t be able to snap their fingers and fix all of the Patriots’ problems, either. The Patriots declined to bring back Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, and Brandin Cooks this season, and it showed on Sunday. The offense isn’t very deep or explosive.
“I mean, there’s no magic play you can call,” Brady said. “It just comes down to execution, throwing and catching, and converting on third down. We’re just not doing a good job. It’s not one thing. It’s everything that we need to do a better job of.”
It would be easy to chalk Sunday night’s loss up to a great coaching job by the Lions’ Matt Patricia, who knows the Patriots’ personnel inside and out. But Brady said the loss was totally on the Patriots.
“We just didn’t get the job done,” he said. “It wasn’t like they reinvented a defense out there. It was just really us not doing a good job with anything — run game, pass game. Didn’t do enough to advance the ball and score points.”
Brady made clear after the Week 1 win over Houston that he wasn’t thrilled with the offensive production. Sunday night, Brady was disheartened by two straight losses beset by a sluggish offense.
“We’re not scoring enough points. We’re not executing enough on a down-by-down basis certainly at a high level that we should have our expectations set at,” Brady said. “The process has been the same, there’s been a lot of talk about it at practice, and we’re going through it and watching film and correcting stuff. It’s just not getting done on the field. We’ve got to get it corrected soon.”