By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — As far as Week 3 drama can go, this one is pretty good.
During the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era in New England, the Patriots don’t ever like to lose two straight games. Over the past decade, in fact, they’re 26-5 in the week following a loss in the regular season. Going back even further to 2003, they’re 46-6 following a loss. It’s a team that never never likes losing, but especially hates losing two weeks in a row.
Then there are the Lions, who decided to dump Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season in favor of Matt Patricia. It was time for a change. Thus far, though, it hasn’t worked out, as the Lions enter this weekend with an 0-2 record, desperate to get the first win of the Patricia era and prevent this season from slipping away before the calendar even turns to October.
Clearly, there’s a little bit more pressure on the Lions heading into this week, but that won’t make earning a victory any easier for Detroit.
Here’s what to watch for once this one kicks off on Sunday night.
What Have You Done, Derek? You’ve Done Nothing! NOTHING! (Until Now.)
This Sunday should mark the first time that Derek Rivers steps onto an NFL field for an actual game. The Patriots’ top pick a year ago, he missed his entire rookie season due to a torn ACL suffered in a joint practice against the Texans. He’s been inactive thus far in 2018, but with Trey Flowers most likely out this week due to the frightening concussion he suffered last weekend, it should set up for Rivers’ NFL debut.
While it’s unknown what kind of player Rivers will be in the NFL, we do know that he’s a mountain of a man at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. He also put up some prolific pass rushing numbers during his collegiate days at Youngstown State. There, he recorded 13 sacks in 12 games as a sophomore, eight sacks in 11 games as a junior, and 14 sacks in 16 games as a senior. All told, he tallied 37.5 sacks and 56.5 tackles for loss in his 49 collegiate games, while recording 173 total tackles, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
Given his limited experience, nobody should be expecting a Khalil Mack type of performance out of the 24-year-old. But if employed properly, don’t be surprised to see him make a game-changing sack or two on Matthew Stafford.
(That header was a Zoolander reference, by the way, for those who might have missed it. Probably a bit of a stretch to casually quote movies that are 17 years old.)
Sony Michel Breakout Party
Speaking of NFL debuts, first-rounder Sony Michel made his last week and was given plenty of opportunities to make an impact. Against a top NFL defense, he didn’t exactly shine.
This week should be different.
The Lions’ defense overall has been atrocious this season, and especially in the run game. The Lions enter Sunday ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed and 31st in rushing yards allowed per attempt.
That should spell good news for all three of the Patriots’ running backs, but especially for Michel, who has to feel even more eager to turn in an impactful performance after getting held down last week in Jacksonville.
Which Matthew Stafford Shows Up?
This won’t be the first nationally televised game of the young season for the Lions. That one came on Monday Night Football on the opening weekend, at home against the New York Jets. And for quarterback Matthew Stafford, it was a real doozy.
The quarterback was downright awful, throwing four interceptions to the Jets, and really sinking his team’s chances of even competing that evening. His 47.9 passer rating that night was the eighth-worst of his 127 career starts, and it was just the fifth time he had thrown four or more picks in a game.
Last week, though, Stafford was much improved, completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 347 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The question is, which Stafford shows up for this prime-time matchup?
That much is difficult to predict, but whatever the answer is will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game. As Blake Bortles exposed last week, the Patriots have themselves some issues on the defensive side of the ball, from a limited pass rush, to questionable cornerback play. Throw in the expected absences of Patrick Chung and the aforementioned Flowers, and those problems don’t appear to be ready to disappear one week later — not with the likes of Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones running routes for Detroit.
For what it’s worth, Stafford struggled in his only start against the Patriots, when he went 18-for-46 (a 39.1 percent completion rate!) for 264 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. That, though, came against a Patriots defense that included Darrelle Revis, and it took place in Foxboro.
From the moment that Julian Edelman got suspended, the Patriots have needed a punt returner. They tried Riley McCarron; he got cut. They tried Patrick Chung; he’s since been injured.
That series of events seemingly led to the Patriots signing Cyrus Jones off the Ravens’ practice squad this week, reuniting the 2016 second-round draft pick with the team that selected him and then cut him this summer.
It was an interesting move, because the Patriots had signed Kenjon Barner last week, and he appeared to have the experience necessary to return punts for the Patriots. But the team dumped Barner this week, apparently going all in on Cyrus Jones 2.0.
Obviously, the first iteration of Jones didn’t work out in New England. Whether it was muffing punts (vs. Baltimore) of fumbling his only good kick return (vs. Seattle), the Jones who flashed at Alabama (watch him murder the punter here) looked like an unsure Jones in the pros. (Both of those games were nationally televised.)
How will he fare the second time around? Well, his preseason performance wasn’t exactly encouraging, as he returned four punts for a total of 11 yards. That included an eight-yard return, giving him three total return yards on his other three returns.
But as McCarron proved vs. Houston, actually returning the ball can be considered a bonus at this point. If Jones can at least wave his arm and haul in punts, the Patriots might be satisfied for the time being.
BONUS: Josh Gordon
Of course, the story of the week has been the acquisition of Josh Gordon. It will obviously be interesting if he is active for this game, but even if he is, expectations should be tempered. Realistically, it’s likely that the coaching staff would only be able to prepare a newcomer for maybe 10-12 snaps in the gameplan.
Still, if No. 10 is out there, you can bet we’ll all have our eyes focused squarely on him. Even if he doesn’t catch a football, the defense’s adjustments to him could open up space for Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, James White, etc.