The “throwback” Patriots put on a defensive show today at Gillette Stadium, where they not only slowed down and shut out a Lions’ offense that had been averaging 35 points a game, but they set an NFL record where they stopped Detroit six straight times on fourth down.
The 29-0 win was a defensive gem of a game plan that was put together by Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick, where they set the tone immediately. On the game’s opening drive, Detroit moved to near midfield and faced a 4th and 1. The defense stuffed RB Jamaal Williams, and the New England offense, courtesy of great field position, would go down and kick a field goal for a lead they would not relinquish.
De facto Offensive Coordinator Matt Patricia and QBs coach Joe Judge also did a great job of preparing rookie QB Bailey Zappe for his first NFL start and putting together a game plan that attacked the Lions’ defensive weaknesses and allowed the Patriots to control the clock and tempo of the game. They didn’t punt until the fourth quarter.
The win, which improves the team to 2-3, snaps a two-game losing streak and puts the team back in contention for a possible playoff spot, although there is a long, long way to go. It also gives the team a much-needed confidence boost with some winnable games on the slate.
Game observations from this afternoon include:
Defense Stops Detroit on the Opening Drive In Lions’ Territory:
This was a very early swing of momentum for the Patriots and set the tone for the rest of the game for a defense that was excellent in stopping the Lions six different times on fourth down.
It seemed a curious decision at the time by Dan Campbell, being so early in the game and on their own side of the 50-yard line, but it also showed their faith in the offense, which has been outstanding for four games, and believing the Patriots’ run defense, which had been gashed for two games in a row would continue that trend.
But not today, Christian Barmore and Carl Davis stood strong upfront, and LB Ja’Whaun Bentley came up and stopped Williams in his tracks for no gain. And on the day, Detroit only gained 101 yards on the ground for an average of 3.7 yards, a drop of more than two yards per carry than they’d been averaging. The Lions had been averaging 5.9 yards a carry, the best in the league.
Rhamondre Stevenson Has a Career Day:
The Patriots made the decision to dress seven wide receivers and only two running backs for this game, and that decision could have come back to bite them when Damien Harris went down with a hamstring injury. But Stevenson answered the bell and rushed for a career-high 161 yards on 25 carries (6.4-yard average) in a very impressive performance. His 49-yard run was a beauty that flipped field position after Jack Jones intercepted Jared Goff on the three-yard line (more to this below).
Bill Belichick was unnaturally effusive in his praise of Stevenson after the game. “You have to give him a ton of credit. With Damien (Harris) out, we only carried two backs for the game, and he put it all on his shoulders,” Belichick said.
“He does a great job with the ball in his hands. He is a strong runner, but he can make people miss. He is a really good football player. Really a good football player. So glad we have him. Had a couple of blitz pickup plays right up the middle where he stepped up there. He is a good all-around back. Love him. Love him.”
Offensive Line Has Their Best Game of the Year:
Although Detroit’s defense has been as bad as their offense has been good, one still has to give credit where it is due. The Patriots’ offensive line was outstanding on the afternoon, not allowing a sack or a quarterback hit on QB Bailey Zappe.
Even better was the fact that they opened up holes for the team to rush for 176 yards on the day. That is the type of game offensive linemen love, allowing them to tee off and assert their will, something Michael Owenu mentioned to the media immediately after the game.
Patricia mixed up the run game plays and mixed in play-action passes perfectly, setting up Zappe for success. For all of the hand-wringing of Patricia being the play-caller, the offense and the OL have been trending upward. It was an excellent performance.
Kyle Dugger Returns…In a Big Way:
In my Sunday notes column, I wrote that Dugger’s return and help defending TE T.J. Hockenson was a big key to the game. Last week, Hockenson torched Seattle for 179 yards on eight catches, including two touchdowns.
Today Hockenson was only targeted four times due to the excellent coverage by Dugger, Adrian Phillips, and Devin McCourty. He only caught one pass for six yards. “Give credit to the players, the defensive coaches. We doubled him at times. We tried to disrupt the timing a little bit. I think some of the credit in our pass defense goes to the pass rush,” Belichick said.
“We tried to reroute them a little bit. Coach set a good game plan, and the guys that were on him, particularly Kyle (Dugger), but A.P. (Phillips) had him some, Devin had him some, Pep (Jabrill Peppers) had him some. The linebackers, Jahlani and Bentley, had a lot of awareness of him to just not make his routes easy, to try to reroute him, force him to go over or under the coverage, things like that. It’s team defense. It’s not just one guy. It’s just good team defense.”
Dugger then made the play that increased the Patriots’ 6-0 lead jump to 13-0. On fourth and nine, the Lions made the head-scratching decision to go for it. But Campbell said after the game that he didn’t feel comfortable with replacement kicker Michael Badgley attempting a 50-yard field goal.
Goff rolled to his left under heavy pressure from Matthew Judon, who then strip-sacked Goff. The ball bounced right into Dugger’s hands, who raced untouched 59-yards for the scoop and score touchdown. It was yet another big play for the New England defense.
Jack Jones With Another Big Turnover:
The rookie cornerback who had two turnovers last week against Green Bay had another today as he snuffed out a Lions’ scoring drive intercepting Goff at the three-yard line. As we mentioned above, the secondary was doing a great job of covering Hockenson, and on this play, Goff was trying to hit him down the sideline for the score.
Coverage was tight, but Jones, protecting the seam, recognized the pass, shot over, and perfectly picked the pass off, just getting his feet inbounds on the play. Goff said later that he shouldn’t have thrown the ball and added that the Patriot defense didn’t do anything different but executed extremely well.
“They played what they usually play,” Goff said to the Detroit News. “I don’t know, I’ll have to watch it, but from what I saw, they played what they usually play, and I think what they do so well is they’re just so sound. They’re so sound, and they have a really good idea of how you’re trying to attack them offensively.
“And their players are very smart, and then they’re good players, too. In order to beat teams like that, defenses like that, you can’t make dumb mistakes like I did.”
But in a limited window, Jones looks like the Patriots may have found another mid-round gem for their secondary.
Some other quick notes made during the game include:
Matthew Judon was once again immense. He set a Patriots team record, notching a sack in five straight games to begin the season, breaking Andre Tippett’s record of four from 1986. Judon had two sacks, four QB hits, and a tackle for loss (TFL). He made life difficult for RT Penei Sewell.
Jakobi Meyers was back from injury and had a very good game catching seven passes on eight targets for 111 yards, including a nice touchdown from Zappe, which was a nice play call that was executed perfectly. It showed Zappe’s growing confidence in the offense.
Hunter Henry had his best game of the season, catching four passes for 54 yards as he was a bigger factor in the play calls this week…finally.
Tyquan Thornton was activated from IR and played 24 snaps catching two passes in a “get his feet wet” type of game for the rookie.
While it was far from perfect offensively, it was more than good enough today. I predicted the Patriots would score 30 points, and they scored 29, but I totally missed the boat on Detroit’s offense (I predicted a New England 30-28 win).
Look for my Positional Report Card asap, which I’m rewatching the game again right now. But first impressions are that the grades will no doubt be higher this week.
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bailey Zappe Bill Belichick Dan Campbell Detroit Lions Devin McCourty Jack Jones Jakobi Meyers Jamaal Williams Jared Goff Kendrick Bourne Kyle Dugger Mac Jones Matthew Judon New England Patriots Rhamondre Stevenson