Patriots Overcome First Half Struggles, Rebound and Chow Down on Lions 45-24

DETROIT - NOVEMBER 25: Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots celebrates his interception with teammates Brandon Meriweather #31 and Jermaine Cunningham #96 during the fourth quarter of the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on November 25 2010 in Detroit Michigan. New England defeated Detroit 45-24. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

I'm pretty sure the saying "a tale of two halves" comes directly from yesterday's Thanksgiving Day game that featured the Detroit Lions and the New England Patriots.  

For the first 30 minutes, the Patriots played some awful football.  They played awful enough that many saw a repeat of the Browns game from a few weeks ago.  While the defense showed some early signs of life, stopping the Lions on their first two drives, the wheels came off from there.

The Patriots showed some ability to generate pressure on the quarterback, but simply could not finish off their rushers.  The result: Lions quarterback Shaun Hill taking matters into his own hands.  With the Patriots unable to bring down the quarterback, Hill consistently scrambled out of the pocket, before throwing down the field or running the ball on his own.  In the first half, Hill ran for three first downs, two of which were on third downs.  With the Patriots unable to stop the pass, the Lions marched straight down the field for two consecutive touchdowns, putting the Patriots down 14-3 just before half.

On offense, the Patriots were able to do little the entire first half.  Prior to their last first half possession, the Patriots had managed just three points on a 41 yard drive that was greatly assisted by a Julian Edelman punt return.  The primary reason for the offense's struggles: the protection by the offensive line.  Tom Brady was hit four times in the first half, as the Patriots were being beat up by a Lions defensive front that included Ndamukung Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, and Corey Williams.

But down 14-3, the offense finally seemed to turn on the switch.  Despite an ugly Brandon Tate drop on a deep ball, a Danny Woodhead-drawn pass interference on third and seven as well as a gutsy 3rd and one 18 yard play-action pass to Aaron Hernandez kept the Patriots' drive alive.  The Patriots capped the drive off with a bruising 15-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis to cut the score to 14-10 with less than a minute to go until halftime.  Unfortunately for the Patriots, they left too much time for the Lions, who quickly went down the field and put up another quick field goal before halftime.

Full recap of the second half after the jump.

The Patriots got the ball to start the second half, and picked up just one first down before punting the ball.  Down 17-10, things looked like they might get worse from there.  To start the second half, Lions running back Maurice Morris ripped off a 17-yard run.  But on the ensuing play, Shaun Hill tried to throw a pass on a post pattern to Calvin Johnson who was blanketed by rookie cornerback Devin McCourty who came up with the clutch interception.

From there, the Patriots didn't take the foot off the pedal offensively.  The team turned their final five full possessions into touchdowns.  While the first was just a short play-action touchdown to Wes Welker, they began to get more flashy from there.  And following one more touchdown drive by the Lions, the defense, and particularly the secondary clamped down as well.

Down 24-17, the Patriots faced a 3rd and two at their own 21 more than halfway through the 3rd quarter.  Tom Brady worked out of the play-action, looked deep to the right to Aaron Hernandez, before eventually finding a wide open Deion Branch streaking down the sideline.  While the pass was slightly overthrown, Branch made a fool out of Lions cornerback Alphonso Smith, taking him to school while pulling off some impressive moves on his way to the score.

With the score tied at 24, the Patriots didn't let up there.  Following a missed Detroit field goal, Tom Brady found a streaking Rob Gronkowski for a 26 yard gain to close out the quarter.  Just two plays into the fourth quarter, Brady found Deion Branch for his second touchdown of the day, making the score 31-24.

Later in the quarter, the Patriots continued to pull away from the Lions, as a defensive stop translated into a seven play, 84 yard drive.  The drive featured a balance of run and pass, and was capped off with a 16 yard catch and run by Wes Welker, aided by some beautiful downfield blocking by Julian Edelman.

Of course, by this time, many Patriots fans expected the Lions, with just over six minutes to go in the game, to march straight down the field and make the game interesting.  Not so fast - thanks to rookie Devin McCourty - who came up with his second interception of the day on a deep ball from Shaun Hill intended for Nate Burleson.  McCourty returned the ball 50 yards to the Detroit 12, before eventually stepping out of bounds.

Four plays later, BenJarvus Green-Ellis iced the game with a one yard touchdown run, to give us the final score of 45-24.  While the margin of victory was large, keep in mind that the Patriots only held the lead for the final 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, before the Lions couldn't keep up with the Patriots, both mentally and physically.

Either way, the Patriots will take the win.  They now stand at 9-2, and are still tied with the Jets atop the AFC East, with the best record in football.  Speaking of the Jets, the Patriots will be playing them next Monday night.  For the Patriots, there will be a lot more than revenge (from the team's week two loss) on their minds.  If the Patriots lose, they may as well kiss goodbye to the division crown, and a first round bye in the process.  Should be a good one.

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