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Patriots vs. Lions: Fan Notes from the Game

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Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 34-9 victory over the Detroit Lions.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The best week of the year is officially upon us.

Only three days of work. Productivity next to zero. A Thursday full of eating, football, and napping on the horizon. And to top it all off, the New England Patriots trounced the visiting Detroit Lions in a game that extended their win streak to seven games and continues their streak of beating down division leaders. It was a strong defensive effort from both sides, but an effective 2nd quarter that saw the Patriots score three times was more than enough of a cushion for the defense to keep the Lions out of the end zone and on their heels all afternoon.

I have a lot of slacking off to do this week, so let's hurry up and get to it.

  • The question all week leading up to this game was how the Patriots secondary was going to match up against the Lions receivers. The general consensus was that they would put Brandon Browner on Calvin Johnson with safety help over the top and Darrelle Revis on Golden Tate. That's what they did, for the most part, and it was tremendously effective. The only time Detroit had any real success against the defense was when New England switched over to zone and Stafford was able to send some guys across the middle - but even then, there wasn't a whole lot they could do.
  • Speaking of Tate, he is one of those players that would have been so, so effective in New England. Fast, versatile, and a hard worker. Oh well. Brandon LaFell ain't too shabby, either.
  • I had completely forgotten that November 23rd is the anniversary of Tommy B's first NFL appearance - against Detroit, crazily enough - in which he threw his first ever NFL completion to tight end Rod Rutledge. 14 years and he's still slinging balls to tight ends.
  • The score of that Pats/Lions game 14 years ago? 34-9 Detroit.
  • And in light of Sunday - man, what a weekend. A Buttfumbleversary and a Tommy B gameday debutaversary back-to-back, coupled with a Pats win and a Dolphins loss. If only the Broncos had somehow managed to lose as well, I would probably have just mailed it in for the year right there and then.
  • Is it me, or did New England initially seem significantly more fired up for an away game against Indy than they were for a home game against Detroit?
  • What a ugly, ugly start to this one. Two three and outs, receivers dropping passes, linemen missing blocks, runners unable to even get back to the line of scrimmage as the Patriots tried to figure out the Lions. Thank goodness that tough Patriots D was there to step up.
  • Man do I love writing that.
  • And of course the Patriots came out in shotgun, pass-heavy, with Vereen in the backfield. I mean sure, it was obviously the smart play against Detroit's defensive front, but there's no way you're going to be able to convince me that another big part of that was that last week Jonas Gray had such a big day.
  • The whole "missing practice because I didn't hear my phone go off" thing doesn't help Gray, either. Jonas, if you're reading this, might I recommend using this as your alarm. I guarantee you you'll never oversleep again.
  • I continue to be completely blown away by the special teams play this year. He'll never get so much as a sniff of a vote this year, but if your criteria for NFL MVP is consistency, toughness, leadership, big-play ability, reliability, and consistent improvement, you can make a case for Matthew Slater. In a season where pretty much every player on the Patriots have struggled at one point, Slater has been lights out as a punt and kick gunner all season.
  • The play of the game, in my opinion, was Ryan Allen's second punt of the day, a booming 66 yarder that he fielded, on a hop, from his own end zone, and then got the kick off with enough hangtime so Nate Ebner and Slater could tackle Jeremy Ross after only a 1 yard gain. Had the Patriots, down three and thus far unable to generate a first down, muffed that punt or had a weaker kick set the Lions up with good field position and the opportunity to go up 10-0, there might have been a different tone to this whole game.
  • That's perhaps what so special about the 2014 Patriots. They can and will beat you in every way possible. Danny Amendola had a huge kickoff return to set up a touchdown. Julian Edelman returned a punt for a TD (although it was called back). They ran it a bunch last week, they threw it a bunch yesterday. As time passes and the team continues to gel, they are only getting more dangerous.
  • Tommy B wasn't as accurate as he has been in the past, but his receivers more than made up for it. Some great diving catches by LaFell and Edelman yesterday.
  • I'm also not one to harp on accuracy. Just ask any toilet I've ever met.
  • Brady sure can sling it, though. His first TD pass to Tim Wright was an absolute bullet.
  • Joique Bell worried me coming into this one - New England has struggled historically with the bigger, between-the-tackles backs. But Detroit wasn't really able to do much of anything offensively, and that includes Bell.
  • I'm glad he was out, but I would have liked to see how the Patriots matched up against Reggie Bush. Hightower and Collins have been incredibly solid for us this year and I'd like to see them tested against a receiving back.
  • Up-and-down day for Collins overall, however. He was right around the ball, had some great tackles, and generated the pressure that led to what was essentially the game-sealing interception, but he also drew a few flags and blew some zone coverage assignments.
  • New England is generating consistent pressure up front, and they are doing it without Chandler Jones. They aren't getting to the quarterback on a regular basis, but they are making them throw before they are ready more often than not. If Jones can get healthy in time for the playoffs, the Patriots are going to be very, very dangerous.
  • Once - just once - I want to see a camera cut to Jim Caldwell on the sidelines doing something. It can really be anything, it doesn't even have to be speaking. Checking a tablet, perhaps. Cleaning his nails. Picking his nose. Blinking. Just gimme something, man. Prove to me you're alive.
  • So LeGarrette Blount walks away from the Steelers on Monday, he's signed by the Patriots a few days later, he dresses on Sunday, and has 12 carries for 78 yards and two TDs, matching his season-long touchdown total in Pittsburgh. If we were planning to send Tennessee a gift basket as a thanks for Akeem Ayers, maybe we should get one for Pittsburgh, too.
  • One of the first articles I wrote for Pats Pulpit was about Jeremy Ross and how glad I was the Patriots took a late flier on him. Of course, New England cut him about 3 days later to kick off what has become a very strong tradition of me being completely wrong about any of the moves I think the Patriots might make. However, I do stand by my endorsement of Ross and I'm glad to see him still playing.
  • While the Patriots defense was mostly lights out, I do have to acknowledge that they were aided greatly by a ridiculous number of drops by Detroit receivers. Eric Ebron dropped a few. Joseph Fauria dropped a few more. Ross had a drop or two.Corey Fuller had one go right through his hands on a perfectly placed throw that would have been a touchdown if he held onto it. While I will credit the Pats D for not allowing the offense to ever really get into a rhythm, which certainly contributed to the lack of concentration that led to the drops, but if the receivers had even held onto a few of those balls, this game would have been a lot closer.
  • These penalties keeping drives alive need to stop. Against a team like Detroit, with a reputation for being very easy to rile up, you can't be the ones taking all the penalties.
  • ESPECIALLY during punts.
  • Seriously - is illegal block in the back the 2014 equivalent of 2012's "turn your head around in coverage?" Just one of those basic, fundamental football notions that the Patriots are simply incapable of understanding?
  • When I was a kid, I played a lot of Nintendo, and my favorite game was (and is to this day) Mike Tyson's Punch Out. I was absolutely dominant with Little Mac, bobbing, weaving, and collecting stars like an absolute boss. I tore through the Minor Circuit and Major Circuit with no problems - even figured out how to take out King Hippo by punching him in the mouth at the right moment. But then I got to Soda Popinksi - that tall, bald, cola swilling jerk. For the longest time, I just couldn't beat that guy; it was his damn uppercut that did it. He waited for just the slightest fraction of a second before he threw it, and I could never get the timing right. The result was a bunch of TKOs, a lot of broken controllers, and more than a little time spent in my room screaming into my pillow. It wasn't even that hard to figure the timing out, either; I just couldn't do it. Stupid Popinski, all smug with his high pitched laugh...
  • Why do I bring all this up now? Because the New England punt team is the Soda Popinski to Julian Edelman's Little Mac. There Edelman is, ducking, dodging, and delivering knockout blows on a regular basis, but he keeps getting taken out by what should be an easily avoidable problem that anyone in their right mind would have no trouble taking care of.
  • But oh sweet Tebow do I love Julian Edelman. Tough as nails, fun to watch, and a threat to take one to the house every time he fields a punt. He does take more than his share of unnecessary hits when he opts not to call for the fair catch, but since he hasn't put a punt on the ground yet, it's tough to knock him for it.
  • Not trying to temp the football gods here; just making an observation. Let's all move on.
  • Late in the 2nd quarter, Tommy B hit Shane Vereen for a 16 yard screen that set the Patriots up with 1st and Goal at the Detroit 5. On that play, Gronk was one of the lead blockers and was in position to draw another big fine for flattening another former Patriot, but it looked like he had forgotten that the play was still going on and James Ihedigbo was able to make the stop. Oh well.
  • Tim Wright had two TDs yesterday. He also caught at least one pass that wasn't a touchdown. That's what I call "expanding your offensive arsenal"
  • The TDs aside, one thing I don't like about Tim Wright: he drops the football pretty quickly after he catches a touchdown pass. Hang onto it for a little while, will ya?
  • I mean isn't that just the WORST? When your red zone threat tight end catches a touchdown and then puts the ball on the ground too quickly after he scores? Am I right? Am I right, folks?
  • That Papa John's Frito's Chili pizza should be right up my alley, but I think it looks absolutely disgusting to me. It's either a sign that I'm growing up or that the sight of Peyton Manning's massive forehead causes me to lose my appetite. It's probably the latter.
  • I've gone as long as possible without whining about the refs in this game, but I can't take it any longer. It's one thing when the refs are blowing calls all over the field and making boneheaded decisions. But when there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to any flag thrown and there is no consistency whatsoever, it gets absolutely infuriating. Illegal hands to the face. Defensive holding. Illegal contact.All were called yesterday, and not one of the replays showed a similar activity. It's like I was watching the first quarter of The Longest Yard.
  • I guess I should be surprised that Troy Aikman has never heard anyone refer to Julian Edelman as Minitron before, but seeing how Aikman likely wonders why the hell some jerk is staring him down every time he walks into a bathroom before he realizes that he's looking into a mirror, I suppose I should just let it slide.
  • New England didn't take a shot downfield until midway through the third quarter. The good news is that LaFell got behind the defense and was open on the play. The bad news is that Brady overthrew him. New England still doesn't have that legit deep threat, and the one they do have has been inactive almost all season. Calling Mr. Dobson.
  • How mobile is Tommy B? Seriously! Russell who? When did this happen?
  • The next thing I want to see Brady suddenly develop late in his career is the Matt Stafford sidearm throw. That is a great move and a real asset, as it almost creates a whole new level of the receiving zone.
  • So if Blount and Gronk were to run at each other full speed, what would happen? Would the entire world just explode?
  • Detroit has now gone 22 straight possessions without a TD. Their last one was a last minute play against Miami to beat the Dolphins and help New England's division seeding. The Patriots are also now 4-0 against the Lions.
  • Calvin Johnson is a beast. All of his catches yesterday were with Brandon Browner in perfect coverage on him. The highlight was an absolutely absurd diving grab on third and long to set up a Detroit field goal. If not for Odell Beckham's catch last night, it would have been the best catch of the week.
  • Despite the way that the defense was playing, I wasn't comfortable with New England's lead until Stafford inexplicably slid well short of the 1st down marker on 4th and 10 to give the Patriots the ball back. Maybe it was the big play ability of Megatron, or maybe it was the fact that the Patriots were basically held to two field goals in the second, half, but I just couldn't really enjoy this one as much as I should have.
  • I'm not going to give Stafford too much crap for starting his slide well before the first down marker, as I I spent yesterday afternoon in my skivvies sitting on a recliner. If I had Brandon Browner barreling down on me, I'd be running in the opposite way.
  • Did I see Bob Kraft in the owner's booth talking on a flip phone? Not only that, a flip phone that looked to be circa 1999 or so? Can that man be any more awesome?
  • I honestly don't know what unit on this team I like most. Offense? Defense? Special teams? They are all just so cuddly.
  • Whereas past victories have been the result of an unstoppable offense and a stout defense, yesterday's win was exactly the opposite: an efficient offense coupled with an unstoppable D.  Credit has to be given to Detroit's defense, as they made some excellent halftime adjustments and New England wasn't able to get much going against them, but the gold star goes to the Patriots D today. Neither Calvin Johnson nor Golden Tate were able to do much of anything, and Detroit's receivers were never able to get into any kind of rhythm. Stafford was under pressure all day, and while a lot of drops didn't help him out any, he looked pretty pedestrian out there. That's all on the New England defense.
  • 14 consecutive winning seasons. How many teams would kill just to get to 14 wins once in a season?

Not much time to enjoy this one, as the Patriots have an extended road trip coming up against two very tough teams. But they now have a very nice cushion and a comfortable lead in the conference, a cushion they may need with the Packers coming up. The "Super Bowl Preview" talks have already started, so we all need to buckle up for the NFL hype machine.

But no sense worrying about that now. I have a big day coming up this Thursday, and I have to start mentally preparing myself.