December 03, 2006
Playing Down To Your Level Of Competition
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- This column did its level best to fire the Detroit Lions up.
Fortunately, the old maxim ?You are what your record says you are? came out in the end. After 45 minutes of an inspired underdog playing a lazy and dispirited favorite tough on the road, the team that was supposed to win all along finally did. But it came about despite a similar combined output of turnovers, a slew of penalties, and a reminder once again about what Mike Martz can do to you when he performs his most proficient NFL job, that of offensive coordinator instead of head coach.
The Patriots were two touchdown favorites and managed to win by only one. Two late touchdowns and three fourth quarter takeaways helped the Patriots slide by the Lions, 28-21, in front of a generally disgusted home crowd who must be wondering about their home team?s ability to play in this supposed football palace anymore. The Patriots let the Lions hang around for most of the game, and when the game finally got too big for Jon Kitna and his untalented but big-hearted bunch of players, the Patriots finally stepped in and took control of the game.
Whatever work Bill Belichick did this week to curtail the fumbling didn?t work. Any effort to bring about more team intensity in the face of a trap game went for naught. The Patriots came out and played this game like it was a vacation from the rest of the season, another bye week, so as to say. After this rough week of practice, the Patriots figured to slaughter the Lions. Instead, the Patriots looked like the Biblical character Daniel and nearly suffered the opposite fate.
It came off early that the Patriots weren?t going to maul the Lions with an offensive onslaught with which they didn?t have the material to stop. The Patriots went three and out on their first drive, featuring two nothing run plays which were too slow in developing into a run defense which is amongst the worst in the league. Their second drive was more like what the Patriots wanted to do, running 17 plays and driving from their 12 to the Detroit 6. But the Patriots shot themselves in the foot with a holding call on Nick Kaczur and Tom Brady missing an open Reche Caldwell in the end zone, and had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
This drive sent a message to the Lions that the Patriots weren?t going to steamroller over them like they may have thought, and Martz decided to open things up and go after the depleted Patriot secondary. Roy Williams was the predicted target here, but it was actually Mike Furrey who blistered the Patriots all game long. Furrey had nine catches for 123 yards, the first three of which were on the second Detroit offensive possession. He deked out Chad Scott and hauled in a 32-yard pass along the right sideline, made one of Martz?s patented in-cut catches for nine, and caught a five-yard scoring toss to make it 7-3 Lions early in the second quarter.
Kitna did enjoy a fairly good game, completing 22 of 38 passes for 314 yards and that touchdown to Furrey. But he did suffer three interceptions, two of them in the fourth quarter, which brought his passer rating down to 60.6. Until the fourth quarter, Kitna was doing a great job of running Martz?s offense, and Furrey and Williams were looking often times like Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt out there.
Now, why weren?t the Patriots able to do to Martz what they had done in the past? It seemed that the Patriots were playing vanilla all game long until when things got urgent late in the game. The Patriots were still getting used to the new linebacker arrangement, but safeties James Sanders and Artrell Hawkins chipped in with ten combined tackles each. Still, there wasn?t much blitzing, not much hitting the receivers at the line of scrimmage. The Patriots did launch more of an assault on Kitna late in the game, but this was more of a by-product of finally realizing they were in a game and suddenly awakened to play a weak opponent the way they should have all along.
Each team had three fumbles and lost two of them. Patrick Pass was stripped of the ball by Corey Smith in the second quarter, and Dre Bly recovered. In the fourth quarter, on a play eerily similar to last week, Ben Watson caught a nine-yard pass from Brady to the Lion 39-yard line, but was hit by Jon McGraw and fumbled. Terrence Holt recovered for the Lions at their own 29. There was another fumble which cost the Patriots in the third quarter, as Brady was hit by Kenoy Kennedy at the New England 2-yard line, jarring the ball loose. Heath Evans managed to cover the ball, but he did so in the end zone, giving the Lions a safety and an 18-13 lead at the time.
The Patriots may not have been prepared for all the penalties they suffered. They were flagged ten times for 72 yards. No penalty in particular was overly frequent (only one of them, for example, was a false start). Corey Mays killed a three-and-out in the first quarter when he lined up offside on a punt. Kaczur?s aforementioned holding penalty helped cost the Patriots a first quarter touchdown. An offsides call on Ty Warren and an illegal contact foul on Asante Samuel helped the Lions score a field goal on the opening drive of the second half.
As most Patriot wins go, Brady took the bull by the horns and let loose when he had to. In the fourth quarter, Brady completed 13 of 14 passes, mostly running a hurry-up offense. Corey Dillon also had a major role in the victory as he scored all three Patriot touchdowns, all on short power runs. Dillon only had nine carries for 25 yards total, but a third of his carries netted 18 points.
Brady also exceeded 300 passing yards, throwing for 305 yards on 27 of 38 passing. He did throw an interception to Bly on the first offensive drive of the second half on a throw where he completely missed Reche Caldwell. But Brady turned out to have a great game overall despite the one pick. He did bring the Patriots back from the possibility of an embarrassing loss in the end, and did it with his signature poise and efficiency.
But the turnovers and penalties are again a problem which Belichick must address. With a tough road contest at Miami next week, against a defense which will most certainly bring about such mistakes if the Patriots are still susceptible, the Patriots need to work ten times harder than they were reported to have worked last week.
Give the Lions credit for playing their opponent tough. This was a team effort that embattled team president Matt Millen would have been proud of. Millen still doesn?t look like he has what it takes to build a consistent winner in Detroit, but the Lions did come at the favored Patriots hard all game long, and must be commended for that.
The Patriots, meanwhile, need to come at their opponents just as hard if they want a second trip to Miami in early 2007.
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