By: Bob George/
November 28, 2002

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DETROIT -- Another ugly win, and more concerns than praise for the champions.

Either Patriot Nation is so spoiled by last year that Tom Brady could throw for four touchdown passes and his fans would be angry that he didn't throw for six, or the Patriots are really a mediocre team disguised as a 7-5 squad who is merely making hay against weak sisters from the NFC North. The Patriots have yet to beat a quality opponent at the top of its game, and all its five losses have come against potential 2002 playoff teams.

The Patriots had enough talent and early execution to clobber the Lions on Thursday. The Patriots made enough bonehead mistakes and brought their "C" game to brand new Ford Field to make this game close. The Patriots did turn out to make the Detroit Lions into Detroit Turkeys with a 20-12 win, but the Patriots really looked like bigger turkeys in victory, not unlike last week's win at home against Minnesota.

The Vikings are a bad team. The Lions? They didn't need stupidity from Marty Mornhinweg to lose this one. The Lions simply didn't have the material to match the Patriots. Most important, they didn't have the material to pull off a win in a game where the Patriots did their level best to keep the home team a part of all game long.

Joey Harrington looked every bit a green rookie out there. His obvious talent notwithstanding, Harrington took his aversion to be sacked and turned it into three picks, one of which went for a 27-yard touchdown return by Tedy Bruschi. Harrington's inability to run a disciplined offense, as well as being unable to make the big play, were other major reasons that his team could not overcome a bumbling effort by a superior team on paper.

We're probably being a little harsh on the Patriots; they did finish with a flourish and did make the necessary stops on defense when they absolutely had to. But Brady once again played down to his level of competition, and like the Oakland game, misfired on some passes, one of which would have gone for a touchdown. Brady was only 18 of 30 passing for 210 yards. He threw no touchdown passes and did throw a pick in the second quarter.

Brady could have had two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, but misfired on both. On third and nine at the Detroit 12, Brady tried to hit Donald Hayes (remember him?) on a fade route in the right corner of the end zone. Hayes had position on Todd Lyght, but Brady overthrew Hayes. To make matters worse, Hayes did nothing to prevent Lyght from making a pick; fortunately, Lyght dropped the easy pick as he fell down in the end zone.

The other close call came on the Patriots' final drive. The Patriots had first and five at the Lions' 34. Brady made a terrific play action fake, and rolled to the right. Daniel Graham had slipped by Chris Claiborne, and was wide open in the right flat with nobody within ten yards of him. All Brady had to do was get Graham the ball and he walks in for a touchdown. Brady throws the ball five yards over Graham's head. Augh.

The Patriots did manage one offensive touchdown, but it was a literal gimme. Midway through the second quarter, the Lions began a drive at their 12. After a nine-yard pass to Michael Ricks on first down, Steve Martin blasts through towards Harrington. Unwilling to take a sack, Harrington fires one right over the middle and into the gut of Bobby Hamilton. He falls down with the interception at the Detroit 19. Four plays later, Smith runs it in from one yard out to make it 17-3 Patriots.

Basically, the Patriots won this game with their defense, which gave up some big plays in the contest but did a great job in frazzling Harrington. One of the keys to victory was to put pressure on the rookie, and the three picks and 14 points off of them bear that out. Besides Bruschi (who would later leave the game with an injury) and Hamilton, Willie McGinest made an interception deep in Patriot territory to negate great field position for the Lions after Claiborne blocked a Ken Walter punt midway through the second quarter.

The crowning moment for the Patriots was, thankfully (no pun intended) by the offense. Reminiscent of the Rams' game last year (the regular season game, not the Big Game), the Patriots ran off the final 9:46 of the game after Jason Hanson's fourth field goal from 46 yards out had cut the Patriot lead to 20-12. The Patriots took over at their own 19, and drove all the way to the Lion one-yard line before Brady took a gentlemanly knee to run off the final seconds.

This amazing drive featured three Lion penalties, four-of-four third down conversions, and a long pass by Brady that actually found its mark. Brady hit David Patten right in the hands on a deep left sideline route, but Patten muffed the play. The drive lasted 17 plays, and featured two clutch third down conversions of more than ten yards. On third and 12 at their own 33, Brady found Graham on a screen pass to the right side for 16 yards. And on third and 12 at the Detroit 41, Brown (10 catches, 111 yards) ran a nifty crossing pattern and hauled in a 17-yard catch for the first down.

All game long, Brady looked out of sync and playing down to his level of competition. While there be no need to criticize Brady or question his fitness for the starting quarterback job, Brady at times seems to be forcing the ball in there, and may be showing some signs of fatigue. The Patriots do get ten days off until their next game a week from Sunday, but Brady is not slinging the ball with the same authority as he was last year and early this year.

The Patriots also had more than their fair share of penalties, several of them of the false start and offsides variety, and two of them for illegal motion at the snap. All in all, the Patriots had nine penalties for 55 yards. But the Lions themselves had eight infractions for 60 yards, which helped the Patriots greatly.

All in all, the Patriots continue to play just well enough to beat the weak teams in the league. But efforts like this and last week against the Vikings will not be enough to get the Patriots deep in the playoffs. If they are to run the table and finish 11-5 like last year, either the Titans or the Jets will derail the Patriots before they get to their season finale tilt with Miami at home if efforts like the last two weeks keep up.

Oh, heck, it's Thanksgiving. Be thankful that the Patriots are still World Champs. Be thankful that they won. Be thankful that they have ten days off after a road Turkey Day win.

The red uniforms worked again. Pat Patriot is now 2-0 since being replaced by Elvis. Maybe Elvis is on his way out, who knows.

If there be any further thanking, let's hope it's for Bill Belichick for trading Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo.