The New England Patriots blew out the visiting Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, improving to 2-3 on the year on a 29-0 victory. They were able to hold the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL off the scoreboard all game, and also put on an impressive offensive performance as well.
With that said, let’s get into the takeaways.
1. Rhamondre The Giant: The Patriots had only two backs on the game-day roster on Sunday, and they then saw Damien Harris leave the game with a hamstring injury after the first quarter. There was no need to worry though, because Rhamondre Stevenson carried the load for the Patriots, racking up a career-best 166 rushing yards, and consistently running through tackles.
The sophomore running back has looked good all year, but this was the most impressive outing of his season and young career as a whole. The hope is that Harris will be able to play next week, but if he can’t Stevenson has shown an ability to carry the load for the Patriots as their lead back.
2. Bailey Zappe performs well: All eyes were on rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe, who was making his first career start with Mac Jones still nursing an ankle injury. The fourth-round selection did not light the world on fire, but he was pretty solid.
Zappe ended up throwing for 188 yards with one touchdown pass, and one interception (which was really more of a Nelson Agholor drop that was picked off), and only had four incompletions all day while going 17-for-21. He looked confident in the pocket, and made decisive throws all day.
The young QB was a different guy in the pocket than he was last week, when he was thrown into the fire; he frequently was lost in the pocket against the Green Bay Packers, either bailing too early or holding onto the football too long. We will see how many games he gets to play, but he appears to at least be a competent stand-in in case Jones is forced to miss more time.
3. The offensive line shines: One of the reasons that Zappe might have looked so comfortable in the pocket was that he did not appear to get pressured even once on his 21 dropbacks. That in itself was an impressive showing by the offensive line, and that is without even discussing the work that the group did in the running game.
There have definitely been some issues this season, and right tackle Isaiah Wynn committed yet another penalty Sunday (his team-leading seventh). All in all, though, it was definitely the group’s most complete performance of the season.
4. 0-for-6 on fourth down: I mean, what else is there to say? Forcing the Lions and their top-ranked scoring offense to go 0-for-6 on fourth down is an incredible feat, and something that has never been done before in the NFL.
The first two of these stops changed the course of the game. The first came on the Lions’ very first possession, with the defense stuffing its opponent up the middle and giving the offense the ball back in Detroit territory. The second came after a 5-yard loss on 3rd-and-2 that knocked the Lions out of (comfortable) field goal range: Matthew Judon chased down Jared Goff and forced a strip sack, which Kyle Dugger recovered and took to the house, putting the Patriots up 13-0.
In the second half, the Lions had four non-kneel-down drives and each one of them ended with a failed fourth-down attempt. The Patriots defense needed to step up on Sunday, and it delivered in encouraging fashion.
5. Jack Jones shines again: The Patriots can’t get enough Joneses on the team, and rookie fourth-rounder Jack has been putting together a heck of a few weeks. He had his first career interception against Aaron Rodgers last week, which he took back for a touchdown. He followed that up with another interception against the Lions, elevating in the red zone and finishing with an impressive toe-tap to complete the pick at the New England 3-yard line.
Jones also had blanket coverage most of the game, and almost had another interception in the end zone later (but the receiver made a nice play to knock the ball away). The youngster has already been getting rather consistent playing time; combine that with Jonathan Jones and Jalen Mills both dealing with injuries, and with the way he’s been playing, and that will probably not change anytime soon.
6. Matthew Judon is a force: The Patriots have had a lot of great pass rushers in their history, including Hall of Famer Andre Tippett. Not one of them has accomplished what Matthew Judon has done so. far this season. He has had six sacks in the first five games of the season, becoming the first Patriot to notch a quarterback takedown in five straight games to open a season.
Judon has been absolute force on the edge, and was almost unblockable when in the game against a solid Detroit offensive line. He also has gotten some snaps off, and has been spelled by some decent play on the edge by guys like Anfernee Jennings and Jahlani Tavai, who both held their own as well.
Remember that Judon was very good last year, but faded down the stretch. The Patriots seem adamant to make sure that doesn’t happen this year, by rotating their guys in and out. If Judon keeps playing the way he has, though, Ol’ Red Sleeves might be looking at a career year.
7. Christian Barmore plays well: I had extremely high hopes for Barmore entering his 2022 sophomore campaign. After a solid rookie campaign, the hope was that he would follow that up with an even better year. That hasn’t quite been the case so far, but he definitely played his best game of the season on Sunday.
It started on the first drive of the game, when he and Devon Godchaux combined to stuff Jamaal Williams for no gain on that aforementioned 4th-and-1. He played well in the middle of the D-line all game, and pushed the pocket a bit on passing downs as well. Hopefully, this game can kickstart his season, and get him playing even better.
If he does, this Patriots defense and its biggest weaknesses thus far will only improve.
8. The Lions struggle again at Gillette: The Detroit Lions have scored one touchdown at Gillette Stadium. Like, ever.
That TD came on a 5-yard pass from Jon Kitna to Mike Furrey way back in 2006. Granted they have now played here a total of just three times, but one touchdown in three games is still not going to get anything done in the team’s favor. Last time Detroit visited in 2014, the team had to settle for three field goals; this time it never even got on the board.
The Lions came to town with the No. 1 offense in football, averaging 35 points a game, and were held scoreless in their first game outside of a domed environment this season — the first time they scored zero points under head coach Dan Campbell. Detroit will look to rebound after its bye next week, but it was a tough loss for them going into the break.
They are probably happy they don’t have to come back to Foxborough for another eight years.
9. There is no quarterback controversy. Sure, Bailey Zappe played well in his first career start, but Mac Jones is the unquestioned starter for this team, and all eyes will be on his recovery. He is pushing to come back, which says a lot about him, but I am of the opinion that I don’t want him back until he’s close to 100 percent.
Jones has been walking with a pretty bad limp, and appears to put almost no pressure on his injured left ankle when making throws in practice. There is no need to rush him back out there, especially if it means him risking re-injury, or if it leaves him susceptible to other injuries.
My thought is that they shouldn’t consider playing him until their next home, on Oct. 24 against the Chicago Bears. We will see if he will be able to make his way onto the field next weekend, or if he will even be ready for the Bears game. The Patriots, unsurprisingly, are playing the entire situation extremely close to the vest.
The good news is that, if Zappe and the offense play the way they did Sunday, they should be able to get another win or two without him. But even if they do, there is no quarterback controversy in New England. Jones is undisputed as QB1.
10. The Patriots are right in it: Right now, the Patriots are 2-3 and in last place in the AFC East. Don’t count them out just yet, though, because their next five games all look pretty winnable even with Jones’ status uncertain: New England will play the Cleveland Browns on the road in Week 6, followed by a home game against the Bears, a road contest in New York, and another game at Gillette Stadium versus the Indianapolis Colts; they then enjoy their bye before a rematch with the Jets in Week 11.
If the Patriots can win at least four of those games, they can head into their Thanksgiving matchup against the Minnesota Vikings two games over .500, which should put them squarely in the playoff hunt. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will be able to do that, but the way they have played the last few weeks should certainly make you confident that they have the ability to go on a run like that.