By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With plenty of time having now passed since the final whistle blew on Sunday evening in Detroit, the pandemonium that follows every Patriots loss has largely died down. It is, as they say, “on to Miami.”
But before fully moving on, it’s worth looking back through the coach’s film to try to figure out what exactly took place in Sunday’s 26-10 loss.
Tom Brady Missed Open Receiver On Opening Drive Third Down
One of the worst offensive performances in recent memory got off to an inauspicious start for Tom Brady, as he didn’t seen an open Phillip Dorsett on a third-and-4 on the opening drive of the game.
It was likely a matter of Brady working through his progressions and not seeing Dorsett after the break to the middle of the field. Brady instead fired over the middle to a well-covered Chris Hogan, and the ball fell incomplete.
Brady couldn’t have known at the time how rare such opportunities would be, so the spotlight shines brighter on this one after the fact.
Life Was Easy For Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount
Kerryon Johnson became the first Lions running back to rush for 100 yards in a game since Reggie Bush back in 2013. Much of that work, though, was pretty easy, as the Lions’ offensive line was outright dominant at times against the Patriots’ front.
Here’s an early inside handoff to LeGarette Blount out of the shotgun on a play when the Patriots stacked eight men in the box. It went for seven yards up the gut.
Here’s the valley that opened for Johnson on a second-and-5. He ran for nine yards.
Here’s the very next snap. Johnson ran for a dozen yards on this one, due in part to missed tackles by Duron Harmon and Jonathan Jones at the second level.
Sony Michel Had Nowhere To Go
The first-round running back has been widely criticized for his lack of production (84 yards on the first 24 rushes of his NFL career). I can admit to contributing some of that myself, based solely on the numbers.
But a closer look at most of Michel’s runs show the Patriots’ offensive line getting manhandled, to the point where there’s likely not a running back alive who could’ve turned a lot of Michel’s runs into positive plays.
Here’s what Michel had to deal with on a third-and-1 that went for a loss of a yard early in the second quarter.
That came two plays after this snap, which went for a two-yard gain.
On a second-and-5 run on the opening drive of the game, Michel faced a wall of blue jerseys.
This was another third-and-1 in the second quarter, but this one lost two yards.
You get the idea. Michel got the ball on a well-blocked play once all night; he turned in a solid 12-yard gain. The rookie definitely hasn’t wowed anybody thus far, but you can’t bury him based on this performance. His numbers in this game reflect an offensive line that got outplayed.
Deatrich Wise’s Pass Rush Move Was Elite
This is not to suggest that second-year defensive end Deatrich Wise is an elite pass rusher in the NFL. But this move to beat left tackle Taylor Decker for a sack was dynamite.
Wise looked he was loading up to swing his momentum to the inside, and Decker bought it. Wise then looked like Allen Iverson for a second in crossing up the tackle and switching to an outside rush. Decker barely got a finger on him. Nice move.
Inside The Drive That Lost The Game For The Patriots
Of course in a 60-minute game, you can point to a number of plays or drives or mistakes or any number of happenings as “the moment the game was won or lost.” But to me, this game really came down to a third-quarter drive by the Lions that was either magnificent in its execution or excruciating in its failures — depending on whether you’re viewing the game from a Detroit or New England prism.
Consider the situation for this drive. After falling behind 13-0, the Patriots scored a field goal before halftime. The second half began with an interception of Matthew Stafford, and a 52-yard touchdown drive for the Patriots on the ensuing possession.
Now trailing by three, the Patriots’ defense took the field looking to get the ball back to Brady, and thus getting the lead for the first time of the night, and thus likely going on to win the game, and thus likely restoring order to the universe.
That drive started positively for the Patriots, as that aforementioned Deatrich Wise sack came on its opening play. From there, though, Stafford and Co. went to work in a drive that, as we now know, would essentially seal the win for Detroit.
Third-and-9, DET 26, 8:39 3rd quarter
Kenny Golladay ran a deep out from the left slot. The Patriots were in a zone defense and actually had it covered fairly well. Stafford, though, was able to perfectly fit a pass over Jonathan Jones’ reach and into Golladay’s hands near the sideline.
Perfect pass. Tip your cap. It gained 16 yards and prevented Detroit from going three-and-out. At a point when the Patriots’ momentum seemed unstoppable, that was so critical.
Third-and-1, NE 49, 6:41 3rd quarter
The Lions faced a third-and-1 following a 6-yard screen pass to Golden Tate and a 3-yard run by Johnson. (Danny Shelton did an excellent job on the second-down run to shed a block and make a one-armed stop of Johnson to force the third-down situation.)
Stafford stood alone in an empty shotgun formation. Johnson was split out wide left as a receiver, and with Duron Harmon in man coverage, Johnson ran a simple five-yard in cut.
Johnson had Harmon beaten by a full step but actually stumbled to the turf after making the break. Stafford delivered the ball to the downed receiver, and Johnson still managed to come up with the reception.
Dont’a Hightower had been roaming in the middle of the defense, and he was reading Stafford’s eyes while drifting back toward Johnson. But Stafford released the pass before Hightower could get in that lane, and the result was another moving of the chains.
Third-and-1, NE 36, 4:33 3rd quarter
This was arguably the play of the game. If New England came up with a stop, it would have either been a 54-yard yard field goal attempt for Matt Prater or a fourth-down attempt for Matt Patricia’s team, which, again, was only leading by three at the time.
But the Lions were able to pick up the first down yardage, with a simple inside handoff to Blount. The Patriots had just three down linemen — Malcom Brown, Shelton, and Lawrence Guy — on the play, and Blount was able to cut back to the left side, where there was only one down lineman pre-snap.
Blount — who despite a big body and a downhill running style is not known for converting these third-and-short runs — was able to fall forward and pick up three yards, giving the Lions a fresh set of downs deep into Patriots territory.
First-and-10, NE 33, 3:53 3rd quarter
The back breaker. And it wasn’t all that complex.
Stafford lined up under center with a tight bunch formation to his right side and receiver Marvin Jones in the left slot, facing man coverage from Stephon Gilmore.
Jones burst to the inside of Gilmore and then broke into a deep post. Safety Duron Harmon was supposed to be Gilmore’s safety net on that play, covering the deep part of the field, but Harmon got caught guessing wrong.
Instead of even having eyes on Jones, Harmon was looking in the backfield and then took a step to his right, as Stafford faked a handoff to Blount. In the meantime, Jones was burning right across Harmon’s face, into an open space.
The throw was too easy for Stafford to make.
And that was that.
After the game, Harmon accepted responsibility for the play, saying “That was a miscommunication between me and myself. It’s my fault.”
Obviously, with more than 18 minutes remaining in a 10-point game, the Patriots had ample opportunity to make up the difference and win this game. But the spotlight belongs on this drive because it was really where the game had a chance to swing completely in the Patriots’ favor. Instead, the Lions converted a third-and-9 with a perfect pass from Stafford. The Lions then converted a third-and-1 when the running back beat a safety in man coverage. The Lions then converted on a third-and-1 on an inside handoff. And then the Lions got a 33-yard touchdown pass when the safety got caught looking in the backfield.
This is, theoretically, what Brady and Belichick always talk about when they utter the word “execution” over and over and over again. While an ugly loss like this one can bring out the wolves in terms of criticizing the roster building, or the preparation, or the “feelings” within the Patriots’ facility, the reality is that these were all plays that the Patriots could have made. Instead, the Lions made them. It’s no coincidence who won the game.