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BOSTON (CBS) — Through several weeks of training camp and through two preseason games, the Patriots offense, full of new faces and undrafted rookies at positions formerly manned by superstars, looked very, very good. A little too good to believe for some, but the results were undeniable. Tom Brady looked better than ever, Zach Sudfeld looked like the lost Gronkowski son, and the offense somehow looked poised to not miss a beat this season.
And in the span of about an hour in Detroit on Thursday night, it all came crashing down. That’s not to say that the season is doomed or anything like that, but it became clear rather quickly that there are going to be some growing pains this season, and they’re going to be difficult to watch.
The mistakes were obvious. Sudfeld’s fumble, Brandon Bolden’s fumble, Shane Vereen’s fumble and Aaron Dobson’s imprecise route on Tom Brady’s interception made the first half hard to stomach, despite the defense’s best efforts. And when the Lions came out in the second half and put up seven before Ryan Mallett took over for Tom Brady, the game was all but over.
Chalk it up as a learning experience, and don’t be surprised to see another one or two (or more) of those pop up in the coming months. Alas, a lot happens during such lessons, so let’s run through all the leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 40-9 loss to the Lions.
–At the start of the game, Dan Roche said “Here comes Tom Terrific and the Patriots.” I propose that all broadcasters be required to refer to Brady as “Tom Terrific” on first reference all season long on the national broadcasts. As if the rest of the country that already hates the Patriots couldn’t have its collective anger poked any more, forcing people to hear Dan Dierdorf and Phil Simms saying “Tom Terrific” every week would be hilarious.
–If there was one area where the Lions showed complete dominance over the Patriots (aside from the scoreboard), it would be emotion. On the very first offensive snap, Jason Jones went absolutely bananas after the Lions stopped Stevan Ridley for no gain. I like that. That’s the attitude you’d like to see in a defense. Fake football game? Don’t tell that guy. He will smack you in the face and then dance on top of you.
But then, there are the negative aspects to it … like the five 15-yard penalties the Lions took.
–One of those 15-yard penalties came after No. 79 on the Lions taunted Tom Brady. He’s Tom Brady. You’re number 79 on the Lions. You should be asking for an autograph, not sticking your fingers in his face.
NFL.com noted that player 79 from the Lions was benched after that, but I didn’t notice because I don’t know who it is.
–Reggie Bush ran wild, notably on a screen pass on third-and-10 on which he took off for a 67-yard gain that was a thorough embarrassment for the defense. That’s the type of play that Bill Belichick might play 50 times in a row, in its entirety, when showing his team the game in the video room.
–Former Patriot Matt Chatham, on the broadcast, relayed one of the greatest Belichick lines I’ve ever heard when discussing how to limit Bush from doing whatever he wants: “You can’t run the route with tears in your eyes.” I just love that so, so very much.
–The Tom Brady-Kenbrell Thompkins connection is the real deal. He looks to Thompkins the way he looked to Deion Branch for so long. You can see it on the plays where Brady decides before the snap where he’s going with the ball, and then gets it there immediately, and the receiver is on the exact same page. Granted, Branch wouldn’t have run himself out of bounds after catching the quick fade along the right sideline in the second quarter, nor would he have come up a yard shy of the sticks on a different third down, but the catch and the gain is the important part.
That said, Thompkins’ best catch may have been the chain mover he had in the third quarter on a pass from Ryan Mallett. The ball wasn’t in the ideal place to catch on the comeback route, and Thompkins fought through a hold by cornerback Jonte Green. That was an impressive play from the undrafted rookie.
–Of course, nothing is perfect, and Thompkins’ drop on a third-and-2 after Brady hit him in the gut is the type of play that Patriots fans might want to get used to. Relying on rookies at skill positions, two of them undrafted, means there are going to be some mistakes. There’s no way those guys can get all of the mistakes out of their system before the real games begin.
–They’re all still better than Joey Galloway and Chad Ochocinco.
–Apropos of nothing, Adrian Wilson is a humongous human being. He has a six pack of muscles … on his shoulder blades. He should play without pads. Just for intimidation. And because he probably doesn’t need pads. Because of the back six pack.
–Just for Poops and Gigs, I decided to do a Google search for “Tim Tebow” on Friday morning, just to see how many headlines he made despite not playing. USA Today, ESPN, CBSSports.com, Fox News, The Washington Post, Boston.com, NFL.com, Yahoo! Sports, The Orlando Sentinel and NBCSports.com all had stories on Tebow. And I’m not talking about stories that mention Tebow not playing. These are stories where the headline was simply that Tebow did not play. If it hadn’t already, I’m pretty sure Tebowmania in New England has jumped the shark.
–In terms of handing out A grades, there weren’t many, but Aqib Talib and Julian Edelman deserve them. Talib didn’t get to draw the matchup against Calvin Johnson due to the receiver’s nagging knee pain, but he was in near-lockdown mode all night. He got called for illegal contact once, but you’ll take that penalty, because that’s how he operates and he gets away with it most of the time.
As for Edelman, the spotlight was on him, he knew it, and he seemed to seize the opportunity. With Danny Amendola not playing, Edelman got plenty of playing time, and he looked good early, running a crisp, precise route on a third-and-7 on the opening drive to gain eight yards and move the chains. I still don’t know that he’ll make the team, but continued question marks about Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce might keep his value high with the coaching staff.
–Dobson got his most action of the preseason, and he came out looking all right, with four catches for 50 yards (including one made while lying flat on his back). But his body movement on the Brady interception did not show the type of fight a rookie should have when he’s trying to impress the coaching staff. After he saw the ball was a bit out of his reach, he jumped in the air and raised his arms in order to avoid contact with the defensive back … who was catching the pass that Dobson was supposed to be catching. You’ve got to get your nose in there at all costs, kiddo.
–Things really were going very well on that opening drive until Sudfeld coughed up the football on a play where a tight end just can’t ever fumble. Tight ends are big and strong. They can’t fumble on a play like that. It’s why last week I made it clear that while Sudfeld might be a capable stand-in for the injured Rob Gronkowski, there is no replacing Rob Gronkowski.
–Speaking of Roberto, I believe the name of the play called on third-and-7 from the Detroit 13 in the second quarter was “Wherefore art thou, Rob Gronkowski?” Brady threw it right where Gronkowski can go up and haul it in underneath the goalposts, but Hoomanawanui can’t get his arms up that high because he’s not an absolute freak of a human. Life is tough for a quarterback when No. 87 is not there to catch everything in the red zone.
–Shane Vereen, The … The … Fumble Machine? Et tu, Shane? Come back, Touchdown Machine.
–You hear all the time that “football is a brutal game,” but for evidence of just how brutal, go back and watch the white jerseys pile on top of running back Montell Owens, who fell to the turf in the Detroit backfield after his knee gave out on him. Imagine applying that type of scenario to real life. Picture an elderly man slipping down the stairs at the mall … and then five of his peers jumping on top of him and fighting to steal his wallet. Brutal indeed.
–Just before halftime, Tony Scheffler argued demonstrably for defensive pass interference, hooting and hollering and gesturing to the official to make the call. He got his flag all right, but the official called offensive pass interference on Scheffler. If that’s a new trend, where officials punish guys for looking like whiny dinks, even if they didn’t do anything wrong, then I’m all for it.
–The Patriots went 1-for-7 on third down in the first half, in addition to the four turnovers. That’s a difficult way to try to compete in a football game.
–I kind of can’t believe Kyle Arrington would want anything to do with a No. 25 Patriots jersey. Good luck trying to snap out of that interception drought while wearing Patrick Chung’s number. It doesn’t help that the jersey size looks to be about a boy’s medium.
–I’m really not pleased with Belichick’s comments last week that none of us can really properly judge any plays that happen, considering we don’t know the calls and the specific responsibilities of each player. Um, Bill, have you ever tried writing a 2,000-word leftover thoughts column after a game? You take that power away from me, and I’ll just be talking about defensive back’s jersey sizes. Nobody wants that.
–What could have been the worst play of the game and the season came after the Bolden fumble, when Brady inexplicably tried to get in on the play to tackle Jones, who had recovered the ball. I know Brady was feeling like a Michigan Man, but he needs to be running far, far away.
–After the game, wearing a sweater that looked like an ashtray but probably cost more than my car, Brady wouldn’t elaborate on his message to the Michigan football team earlier in the day, saying his message was private. Tell that to the video intern who posted your whole speech, man.
–Tom Brady’s little “injury” at the end of the first quarter wasn’t very concerning because Brady is the kind of guy who would chop off his left hand in order to stay in the game. What does he need a left hand for, really?
–Need a silver lining? It’s the preseason, and the preseason results don’t really mean a lot. Need an example? How about two years ago, when the Patriots got thumped, by the Lions, in Detroit, 34-10. That Patriots team ended up with a 13-3 record before going to the Super Bowl. If you come across any sky-is-falling reaction to this game, just remember that.