By: Bob George/BosSports.net
August 27, 2011

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DETROIT -- Either the players were preoccupied with whether their houses back home would be standing upon return to New England, or the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears have a new problem named Matthew Stafford.

Whatever the reason, the Patriots simply did not show up to Ford Field in Detroit on Saturday night to play football. Based upon the nice efforts the team showed against the two Florida teams in the previous preseason games, the Patriots could have at least been expected to come close to those efforts against the woebegone but improving Detroit Lions. Instead, the Lions embarrassed the Patriots and dominated the first half, 27-10, on their way to a 34-10 preseason victory. Other than an anomalic (for this game) touchdown pass to Wes Welker thanks to a nice fake and blown coverage, the Lions flew off the ball on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and could very well have sent a message to their NFC North counterparts, including the current champs, that the 2011 Lions might just be the best entry from this city since the Wayne Fontes era.

Bill Belichick fell on the sword in the postgame press conference, saying that he personally did not prepare his team well for this game and that no phases of the game went well for the Patriots. Understatements they may be, perhaps the players did have Hurricane Irene on their minds back home and weren't focused as they had been the previous two weeks. But it is clear that the Lions were the more motivated and energetic team from start to finish.

Stafford has shown flashes of brilliance in his brief NFL career, limited only by a rash of injuries. In this game, Stafford was a stunning 12 of 14 for 200 yards and two touchdowns (and a passer rating of 158.3) against a Patriot defense that either had a hideous night or simply doesn't want to show Miami anything at all for the Monday night regular season opener. Neither Devin McCourty nor Kyle Arrington could make heads or tails of Stafford except for one sack of Stafford by Arrington. Wideouts Nate Burleson and Calvin Johnson, and running back Jerome Harrison had pass receptions of 30 or more yards in the first half, most of it stemming from bad coverage and in some cases great play execution.

For the game, six Lion receivers had long catches of 20 or more yards. Eight different receivers in the first half caught at least one pass from Stafford and Shaun Hill, who played the last two offensive series of the first half for the hometowners.

On the opening drive, Stafford found Burleson on a deep sideline route for 37 yards. Burleson outpositioned McCourty and made a nice leaping grab, which set up a 33-yard field goal by Jason Hanson. On the second drive, Stafford made a nifty fake end around to Stefan Logan and instead dumped off on a screen pass right to Harrison with three blockers perfectly set up in front of him. The play went 52 yards, and two plays later Stafford hit Burleson from nine yards out, beating Arrington in coverage and making it 10-0 Detroit in the first quarter.

Then in the second quarter, Stafford found Johnson with McCourty in single coverage. Stafford launched a deep right sideline toss which came up short. But Johnson was able to shake McCourty and make a diving catch for 30 yards. Two plays later, Stafford hit tight end Tony Scheffler on a beautiful 22-yard slant in over the middle, beating Arrington and scoring a touchdown to make it 17-3 Lions.

Nothing worked for the Patriots. Jerod Mayo was badly beaten on two consecutive plays late in the half to give the Lions the 27-10 halftime lead, as Aaron Brown caught a beautiful nine-yard dump pass and scored late in the half. Nobody on defense was able to get any pressure on Stafford, and Harrison was able to muster 24 yards on 8 carries on the ground to help set up the pass.

If any positives can be gleaned from this game, it is that this game resembled a preseason game in 2004 at Cincinnati. The Patriots went into Paul Brown Stadium in August during the Summer Olympics and got coldcocked by the Bengals, 31-3. It was a stinker of a game and a pathetic effort by the Patriots which greatly resembled Saturday night's game. Tedy Bruschi would state later that that game woke up the Patriots, and the team went on to win their third (and most recent) Super Bowl that year. If this contest serves the same purpose for the Patriots, then consider this loss a positive.

Still, this was the third preseason game, and that Bengals loss was the second. The Patriots dropped their last two preseason games in 2004 after the Cincy loss, but then went 14-2 in the regular season. Since 2004, the Patriots have lost only two third preseason games (2008, 2010) until this year. The third preseason game tends to be a regular season dress rehearsal, and you get a little bit better look at what you'll get for the real deal in three weeks.

One other explanation for why things went so poorly for the Patriots was the fact that many defensive starters didn't make the trip. Albert Haynesworth was starting to practice but has still yet to see game action, and the same holds true for Shaun Ellis. Mike Wright, Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham were also among the absent for the Patriots. Stafford and all those who followed him looked too comfortable all game long, as the Patriots showed nothing close to what they showed last week in Tampa.

The Patriots get the Giants at home next week, then prepare for the season opener at Miami, which will be on Monday night. The Giants will have their third preseason game with the Jets moved to Monday night due to Hurricane Irene, which only gives them two days off until they have to travel to Gillette Stadium. In a game which usually features the last players to be cut, you'd be better off concentrating on the Red Sox and how they do against some other sports team from New York that night. It won't be much to watch from an artistic point of view anyway, and Belichick and Tom Coughlin might just make the game a complete referendum on who is the last to go.

But the Patriots basically took the night off, and Lion Nation feels great as a result. To a city and region which hasn't had a good football team since the days of Barry Sanders and no championship since the days of Bobby Layne, the home fans had a rollicking good time watching the Lions pick apart the Patriots as if they had been the Lions of the past two decades.

Of course, the Patriots now face the biggest challenge of the weekend, and it had nothing to do with containing Stafford or Ndamukong Suh. It's getting home. And it may take a while. It's time to deal with the hurricane, and the Giants can wait.


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