Nov 23, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) raises his arms in celebration of a touchdown during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots hosted Detroit and Ndamukong Suh and the the number one rated defense in the NFL coming into the game. While the Lions were tops in league stopping the opposing offense, they had not faced an offense quite like the New England Patriots yet in 2014. New England was coming into the game having scored 43, 37, 27, 51, 43, and 42 points in their last six games. While the Lions defense had some good moments slowing the Patriots, they di not have nearly enough as the fell to the Patriots 34 to 9.
Despite the game officials looking like they were being paid by the flag, both teams were able to shake off the over-involvement of the yellow flags and make for an entertaining game. The story was defense, but the team with the standout defense was that of the Patriots. After a few quick completions to wide receiver Golden Tate, the Patriots secondary switched things up and once cornerback Darrelle Revis took over the primary coverage of Tate he suddenly disappeared from the offense. Tate and Calvin Johnson had just eight receptions between the two of them.
Oct 26, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) gestures to the crowd during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots played some zone–as they always will on defense–but for the fanbase clamoring to see Revis and Brandon Browner (and the perpetually underrated Kyle Arrington) in man-to-man coverage this was the game for them. The Patriots brought pressure throughout the game from their linebackers as Rob Ninkovich, Akeem Ayers, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins were blitzing and shooting gaps to get pressure on Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.
For lovers of the grind ’em out, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust throwback NFL games focused on the running game, however, this was not that kind of day. One week after rushing for 201 yards and four touchdowns, Patriots running back Jonas Gray saw newcomer LeGarrette Blount getting the goal line carries and the handful of snaps when the Patriots were not in the spread offense. In fact, Gray did not get on the field after being late for practice on Friday and appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The Patriots were able to grind out some yards against the tired Detroit defense. Blount was able to end up with 77 yards rushing and two touchdowns but most of it came on two carries. The running game was not a key part of the game plan for New England as they used the short passing game to replace running the ball into the teeth of the Detroit defense. Detroit tried to get the running game established repeatedly throughout the game but lead running back Joique Bell (Reggie Bush was out injured) had just 48 yards rushing on 19 attempts.
Nov 16, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (90) looks on against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals won 14-6. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
For the Patriots offense, it was a lot of responsibility put on the offensive line to slow the ferocious Detroit pass rush. Not just Suh and the injured Nick Fairley, but Ezekiel Ansah, C.J. Mosley, George Johnson, DeAndre Levy, and Ashlee Palmer. While they were able to get some pressure, it was nothing like the sack-fest that had been going on for Detroit for the first nine weeks of the season before running into Arizona and New England. While Brady got hit more times than the Patriots would have preferred, the Patriots kept Brady upright and let him step into his passes and make a number of completions as he carved up the Detroit defense. Brady finished 38 of 53 for 349 yards passing and two touchdowns. His one mistake was trying to force a pass into triple coverage at the goal line which was picked off by former Patriot James Ihedigbo.
On offense, the Lions had a number of chances to make the big play to turn the game and get a few touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. The Lions had drives stall due to drops by wide receivers Jeremy Ross, Corey Fuller, and tight end Eric Ebron. In addition, besides Stafford having to unload the ball earlier than he would like, or being forced off his spot and having to throw outside the pocket, or being his as he was throwing the ball, the Patriots cornerbacks were in tight man coverage across the board and Revis, Browner, Arrington, Logan Ryan, and safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty all made strong individual plays in the passing game.
Stafford finished at less than 50% completion rating as he was 18 of 46 for 264 yards and once again failed to lead the Lions into the end zone for the second straight week. The Patriots matched-up well with the Lions key weapons as New England–despite showing multiple looks and switching formations at times–had a lot of Revis on Tate and Browner on Johnson. Few cornerbacks have the size to bully Megatron at the line of scrimmage, but Browner was up to the task most of the time.