By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — We all thought the Patriots were going to roll into Detroit and deliver an old-fashioned whooping to Matt Patricia and his Detroit Lions.
We were all wrong. So very wrong.
That tends to happen in the NFL, especially in the early part of the season. We don’t know what we think we know about these teams, which tends to lead to some surprises.
And now through three weeks, what we’re starting to know about the Patriots is not very good. Their offense lacks playmakers, their defense can’t make any stops, and they’re now sitting a 1-2, falling far behind the 3-0 Miami Dolphins — the 3-0 Miami Dolphins! — in the AFC East.
How the Patriots end up responding to this rough start is yet to be seen. But for now, after a 26-10 loss at the hands of the Lions, it’s time to analyze the Four Ups and Four Downs from this game. After a loss like this, we’re leading with the Downs. And there may be more than four.
First Half Defense
It was, in a word, awful. Detroit thoroughly owned the first half, largely because the Patriots’ defense could not get off the field. The Patriots managed to limit the damage on the scoreboard, holding Detroit to just 13 points, but the time of possession was the key factor.
Detroit picked up 14 first downs in the first half.
(The defense didn’t exactly play lights out in the second half. The Lions didn’t punt all night until 5:35 into the fourth quarter.)
First Half Offense
Of course, the Patriots were balanced in that first half, but not in a way they would have liked. Tom Brady was able to lead a field-goal drive before halftime, but prior to that, the Patriots had gained just 13 yards on their first three drives. Nothing was working at all. Making matters worse is the fact that the Lions entered the game with one of the worst statistical defenses in the NFL.
The end result was an opening 30 minutes where the Patriots were never really in the game. Brady was shown on the sidelines compelling his teammates to put together “one good drive.” It felt more like a prayer than a directive.
Stephon Gilmore/Duron Harmon
The Patriots began to build something in the third quarter. Ja’Whaun Bentley picked off a Matt Stafford pass on the opening drive of the second half, and the Patriots drove for a touchdown to cut Detroit’s lead to just three points.
But that momentum was short-lived when Stafford hit Marvin Jones for a 33-yard touchdown. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore got toasted by Jones on a deep crosser, but it did look as though safety Duron Harmon was supposed to be there for help over the top. Instead, Harmon appeared to have his eyes in the backfield as he stepped to his right … just as Jones burned past him to the left.
Regardless of who, exactly, was most to blame, the breakdown was a big one for New England, which really needed a defensive stop.
On a fair number of snaps on Sunday night, Tom Brady took a snap, stood tall in the pocket, scanned the field, and waited … and waited … and waited. He was waiting for someone to get open. It really ever happened.
The frustration became evident, with Brady chucking a deep prayer to a double-covered Rob Gronkowski on a third-and-10, and later heaving another prayer into a double-covered Phillip Dorsett for an interception.
Brady absolutely should have holstered the pass that was picked (it came on a second-and-8 near midfield), but it was the end result of a frustrating night for a quarterback who did not have much opportunity to be great on this night.
The additions of Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon in the coming weeks should help, but even beyond that, the Patriots’ offense has a lot of work to do.
Once again, for the second straight week, the Patriots tried very hard to make Michel a focal point of the offensive game plan. Once again, they had little to show for it.
Michel rushed for 50 yards on 14 carries, and he caught one pass for a loss of a yard. He was also targeted with two other passes, dropping one and failing to connect with Brady on a short pass to the left flat for the second straight week.
Michel now has 84 rushing yards on his first 24 NFL carries, and six yards on two receptions.
Probably unfair to pin much of that on Brady, considering the aforementioned issues at receiver. But still, the idea is that the Hall of Fame QB with the transcendent talent is able to make magic out of a depleted roster. Rather than rise up and author a miracle of sorts in this game, Brady appeared to let frustration seep into his game.
The quarterback took two sacks, completed just 14 of 26 passes for 133 yards, and took an intentional grounding penalty for heaving a deep ball to nobody.
The loss hardly falls on the quarterback’s shoulders, but even Brady would likely admit that the quarterback did not play up to his own near-impossible standards.
He’s supposed to be the Patriots’ best defensive player, but he has not at all looked like the pre-injury version of himself. Whether he is rounding into shape or struggling to regain his speed and explosiveness is the question. If it’s the latter, then the Patriots’ defensive problems likely won’t be ending any time soon.
The back was effective in his limited action, but he left this game early with what was deemed a neck injury. He suffered a concussion in Week 1, so anything involving his head or neck is going to be very concerning.
At halftime, the Patriots desperately needed somebody — anybody — to make a play. Just three snaps into the third quarter, Ja’Whaun Bentley made a play.
The linebacker ran with tight end Luke Willson and undercut the route just was Willson broke to the post. Bentley picked off the pass, a huge play that immediately led to a Patriots touchdown drive that cut the Detroit lead to three points.
Tom Brady-James White
The two players don’t land on this list for their overall body of work in this game. But their touchdown connection in the third quarter was a thing of beauty.
With White running a wheel route to the right side, Brady stepped up to avoid pressure from his right and then delivered a strike through a perfect passing angle to White in the end zone. There was tight coverage on White, but it didn’t matter, as Brady and White seemed determined to complete that pass regardless of what stood before them.
It was one of the few highlights of the whole night for New England.
Along similar lines to Bentley, the Patriots needed a spark coming out of halftime. Wise held up LeGarrette Blount at the line of scrimmage for no gain on the second snap of the third quarter, and he let out a primal scream. It wasn’t much, but it was the first sign of any energy coming from a Patriots player all night. Bentley made the pick on the next play.
Wise began the next Detroit series with a seven-yard sack of Stafford, too.
The highs are hard to come by, really. But Gronkowski was all right. He caught four passes for 51 yards on a night where he saw a lot of double coverage. He managed to get his hands on a deep ball from Brady on a third-and-10 late in the third quarter. It would have been an otherworldly catch, but on a night like this one, the Patriots did need that kind of play.