For most of Sunday afternoon, the question was not how but by how much. The Detroit Lions, in their second consecutive showdown game, came up small, falling to the New England Patriots, who found it easy to put up a barrage of points and yards.
Despite a quick opening field goal and a promising drive after the Patriots had scored, momentum became a runaway train against the Lions. Detroit wasn’t able to find the offensive or defensive consistency to hang in, and New England executed at a higher level all day, helping in a dominating 34-9 victory.
In he second straight week, little went right on offense, and joining the inconsistent party was the defense, who were picked apart start to finish. That led to another unsuccessful hunt on the road, with this one certainly feeling more frustrating than the last.
What else can be taken away from Detroit’s rough weekend in New England? Here’s some thoughts.
A 65 Yard Punt May Have Changed The Game. Detroit had a 3-0 lead and all the first quarter momentum after stopping the Patriots cold, and then New England got a bad snap in the end zone. Brandon Allen, however, bombed the punt away to Detroit’s 20 yard line, helping to flip field position massively. If Detroit is given a short field and manages to score a touchdown or even put another field goal on the board, perhaps things don’t get so out of hand. Instead, Detroit struggles defensively, Brady gets the ball back and immediately, the Lions are behind. The crowd also got involved, and never seemed to quiet down. It’s tough to trace the origin of everything miserable back to one punt, but if the kick is shanked, things could have been much, much different. Special teams is still vitally important in the NFL.
Matthew Stafford Had More Problems Than Just Himself. This time, don’t blame Stafford entirely for Detroit’s failures. The offensive line lost Riley Reiff in the first quarter, and with rookie Cornelius Lucas filling in, struggled to protect early, helping Detroit get in a fast hole. Against the Patriots attacking defense, that loss was hard to mitigate. From there, dropped passes and forced throws also hurt. Of the three problems at the quarterback position, only one was a direct fault of Stafford. Certainly, he should expect his players to meet him half way by catching passes right in the hands or in the chest and digging down deep to find protection. This isn’t to absolve Stafford for never being able to win big games on the road, but the deck was stacked against him nearly from the start on this day.
The Defensive Backfield Showed Why They Rely Heavily On The Line. Entering the contest, Detroit’s defense was ranked tops in football, but that proved to be a ranking in number only. Tom Brady surgically picked apart the Lions pass defense, and the reasoning was the play of the front four. Brady rarely gave Detroit’s pass rush a chance to sack him or force mistakes, putting the pressure on the linebackers, safeties and corners to execute at a high level. Quite honestly, for as good as the Lions have been, the secondary isn’t a group capable of having to carry the defense entirely. Somehow, Detroit needed to put more pressure on Brady much like they struggled to do with Drew Stanton. In the week ahead, Detroit has to devise a plan to maximize the impact of the front four again, because what makes this defense go is sacks.
Detroit Played Scared. Whether it was punting in New England territory, a constant barrage of field goals despite being down by multiple scores or the decision to rarely try and heat the pocket up when four man pressure wasn’t getting home, the Lions were the passive ones Sunday. An attitule like that isn’t going to help a team win many major games on the road, and Jim Caldwell and company should be called out for their passive approach. At some point, the Lions will have to throw caution to the wind and play with a chip on their shoulders to become a playoff threat. Instead, players were hanging their heads on the field, and seemed to be overwhelmed by the atmosphere and moment. That has to stop happening.
Still, All Is Not Yet Lost. Only four NFC teams have beaten the Patriots in New England. Simply, Gillette Stadium is a place the home team doesn’t lose no matter who enters the opposing tunnel. Detroit may have lost the chance to cement their status as playoff threat, but considering where the schedule goes next, the team can still pull themselves out and challenge for the NFC North as well as a wild card birth. That might not feel acceptable to the fans, but every week from here on out the team will have something to play for. Much like 2013, it will come down to Detroit’s execution within the division and against teams they should beat down the stretch. Fail to have success there, and another frustrating finish could be in the cards.
Lions? Nobody. When the head coach admits afterward that the entire team didn’t play well, there’s no use singling anyone out for positive play. All in all, a very tough afternoon for everyone in Lions’ colors.
Lambs? While everybody played poorly as a whole, some players did play worse than others. Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew were complete no-shows in the offense, with the first two dropping plenty of key passes. Defensively, everyone in the backfield looked a step slow, with Rashean Mathis perhaps looking the slowest.
What About The Key Matchup? Entering this contest of top teams, we said it would be key to watch Calvin Johnson against Darrelle Revis. Even though the Patriots moved Revis around, he played a key role not just shutting down Johnson, but Golden Tate and everybody else. Revis batted passes away and stuck to pass catchers like glue, showing why he’s still one of the best cornerbacks in football. He won the battle not only against Johnson, but most of Detroit’s other receivers.
Number To Note: 6, the number of drops the Lions had, with two in the end zone that could have been touchdowns. That’s not going to get it done for an offense that has trouble sustaining drives and scoring. Somehow, the Lions have to find a way in three days to clean up the sloppiness. Kicking away chances to make plays helps nobody.
He Said It: “Any time you lose your left tackle, it’s going to be a challenge.” —Matthew Stafford. Though he wouldn’t talk about accuracy issues, Stafford admitted it was tough to lose Riley Reiff early, considering he had been playing excellent football. The subtraction of Reiff nearly before the game began didn’t help anything Detroit wanted to do on offense, and quickly, the line started to show signs of breaking. After that, Stafford knew immediately that Sunday would be a tough task