Jim McBride’s review of the highs, lows, and everything in between in the Patriots’ 26-10 loss to the Lions on Sunday.
SLOW OUT OF THE GATES
For the second straight week, the Patriots got off to a slow start, fell behind by double digits, and were never able to climb out of the hole.
The Lions scored on their first three possessions and though they led, 13-0, it felt like a 113-0. Detroit controlled the line of scrimmage and the clock, holding the ball for nearly twice as long as the Patriots (39:15 to 20:45).
It all added up to a second straight loss and a 1-2 record for the first time since 2012. The Patriots started 2-2 last season and reached the Super Bowl, so while the mood in the locker room was somber, nobody was ready to hit the panic button.
“I wouldn’t say [we’re] worried because we feel like the reason we’re in this situation is because of ourselves,’’ said safety Duron Harmon. “I mean we’ve got to tip our hats to the Lions because obviously they played better than us but we know we can obviously play a lot better than this and it’s up to us to get ourselves out of this mess and nobody’s going to help us. We’ve got to do it ourselves.’’
Tom Brady had one of his worst statistical games in some time, completing just 14 of 26 passes for 133 yards.
Though the former Michigan star was sacked just once, he was hit a half-dozen times and was under siege all night.
It was a horrific night for the Patriots receivers, who couldn’t gain separation and couldn’t hold onto the ball.
The receivers only had four total catches, with Chris Hogan grabbing three for 31 yards and Cordarrelle Patterson one for 12 yards. Phillip Dorsett was targeted five times but had zero catches.
The low point may have come in the fourth quarter when Brady was called for intentional grounding when he fired a deep ball with no receivers around after Patterson apparently broke off his route.
“Those things shouldn’t happen,’’ said Brady, asked about the miscommunication on the play. “This is pro football.’’
Help is on the way, with Josh Gordon a possibility for next week and Julian Edelman returning for Week 5.
THIRD DEGREE BURNS
The Patriots again had trouble on third down on both sides of the ball – they couldn’t stop them on defense and couldn’t convert them on offense.
New England was just 2 of 9 on third down, while the Lions converted 7 of 14, including 3 of 5 in the first half when they built a 13-3 lead.
“Right now we’re not doing anything well consistently,’’ said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. “You keep seeing long drives.’’
Sony Michel had a promising debut in Jacksonville but took a step back – literally – in the first half.
The first-round draft pick was twice given the ball on third and short in the second quarter and twice was knocked back.
On the first attempt, Michel went behind the right guard but was smothered by Ricky Jean Francois after Shaq Mason got caved in. The second attempt was a real momentum-killer. As Michel tried to string the defense out on a third and 1 at the Detroit 16, he was dropped by former Patriot Tavon Wilson for a 2-yard loss.
Michel came out with a chip on his shoulder in the second half, helping fuel New England’s only touchdown drive on its first possession but he wasn’t able to sustain that momentum. He finished with 50 rushing yards on 14 attempts.
The Lions entered the game with the worst run defense in the league but the Patriots couldn’t take advantage, rushing for just 89 yards.
“That’s football,’’ said Michel, when asked if he thought he was close to breaking through on the early stretch plays. “You can be close but at the end of the day, it didn’t happen.’’
Detroit rookie Kerryon Johnson hit the century mark for the first time, rushing for 101 yards on 16 carries. He teamed with LeGarrette Blount (16 carries, 48 yards) to form an effective 1-2 punch that consistently found inside creases and cutback lanes.
They pounded the ball effectively enough to set up the pass game. As the Patriots cheated closer to the box, Matthew Stafford would make them pay by finding pockets in the secondary.
“A ton of credit to our guys up front,’’ said Stafford. “[New England’s] a defense that does not want you to run the football on them and we did it and I was happy to be a part of it.’’
The Patriots again were susceptible at the second level of the defense, with Stafford masterfully finding guys underneath that the linebackers couldn’t keep up with.
Golden Tate (six catches, 69 yards) and Theo Riddick (three catches, 36 yards) had a field day on short catches they turned into long runs.
After charging in off the right side and around his block, the defensive end got his big paws on Matthew Stafford and sort of gently placed the quarterback on the ground.
In this time when giving the quarterback a dirty look seems to draw a flag, it was a wise decision by the second-year player.
The Patriots defense was generally abysmal in the first half but they had a particularly bad three-play stretch during Detroit’s third scoring drive.
First rookie Keion Crossen, on the field for the first time, drew Marvin Jones and gave up a 16-yard catch on a crossing pattern. On the next play, fellow rookie corner J.C. Jackson drew a holding penalty in the secondary resulting in an automatic first down.
Finally, the Patriots were hit with an uncharacteristic too many men on the field infraction.
Matt Patricia’s decision to kick a field goal rather than go for it on fourth and inches drew a rather loud groan from the Ford Field faithful. It was a curious decision as Matthew Stafford had the offense seemingly running on all cylinders.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Yeah, it happened. Brady’s my quarterback, that’s all. I wasn’t going anywhere without Brady,’’ Rob Gronkowski on if it was accurate that he was almost traded to the Lions in the offseason but threatened to retire if a deal was struck.
SECOND BEST ARM
Matthew Stafford was slinging it to the tune of 27 for 35 for 262 yards but his coach showed off his arm, too. Patricia fired the red beanbag with authority to challenge Kenny Golladay’s goal-line fumble.
Patricia was proven right upon further review and Golladay was awarded a touchdown, giving the Lions a 10-0 lead.
Tailback Rex Burkhead left early in the fourth quarter with a neck injury. The tailback had a pair of catches for 26 yards but wasn’t used in the running game as the Patriots opted to go with Sony Michel as the featured back.
Phillip Dorsett was shaken up after an incompletion on a deep route with three minutes left in the game. It was unclear what he hurt and the receiver was able to walk off – albeit gingerly — under his own power. He came back for the Patriots’ final drive.
Bill Belichick appeared to have an issue with the turf at Ford Field and had a short but mildly animated conversation with an official at the end of warm-ups.
The coach specifically pointed to the midfield section where the Lions logo is located. Earlier several Patriots, including practice squad quarterback Danny Etling, were testing the area with their feet and perhaps they alerted Belichick.
Ford Field is where Julian Edelman lost his footing during a preseason game in 2017 and tore his ACL, costing him the season.
The Patriots start a three-game homestand by opening their division slate against their red-hot foes from South Florida.
Miami moved to 3-0 with a win over the Raiders. Ryan Tannehill has been superb, throwing for nearly 700 yards and 7 touchdowns with 2 interceptions. He has great trio of receivers in Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, and Danny Amendola.