Perfect at home and on a seven game winning streak, the New England Patriots beating the Detroit Lions 34-9 was an excellent example of their turnaround this season, once again looking like the best team in the NFL, something that hasn’t happened to the Pats in a very long time.
This isn’t the 2007 version that destroyed every team with unstoppable offense until that Super Bowl loss to the Giants. Tom Brady is playing very well behind a functioning offensive line that gives him plenty of time, but he’s no the Brady of old. He misses throws, he makes mistakes even when not under pressure, finishing with one thrown interception to his two touchdown passes. But he doesn’t have to be a Hall-of-Fame like Brady. Not when Belichick has this team clicking on defense.
The additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner took time to prove themselves, but for the first time in almost a decade and to be more accurate, the Super Bowl years, the Patriots have the kind of defense that makes it so difficult to throw against them, which leaves time to their excellent pass rush, spearheaded by Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich, to get to the quarterback. It’s even easier when it’s someone who takes his time throwing the ball like Matthew Stafford.
Stafford was sacked twice but was under pressure quite a lot, despite the Patriots usually using a four-man pass rush on him. He completed only 18-of-46 passes (39.1% of his attempts), the worse completion percentage of his career. He didn’t throw a single touchdown pass, as the Lions settled for only three field goals the entire game, and giving up 20 points between the second one and the final one, as the Patriots adjusted to the Lions’ defensive line very well in the second quarter, when the game was decided.
Stafford completed only 11-of-30 passes including an interception thrown against the standard pass rush, while Tom Brady was probably more than comfortable in the four-man pass rush from the Lions, completing 33-of-45 passes that way. He finished with 38 for 53, and looked a lot more uncomfortable and rushed when they blitzed him. However, it looked like the Lions were too afraid to open things up, fearing Brady might enjoy too many open targets and punish them for it.
The Patriots wasted no time bringing LaGarrette Blount from free agency and using him. He played a big part in the playoffs for them when they beat the Colts last season and ran for two touchdowns, rushing for 78 yards on 12 carries, on his debut after being released by the Steelers. Maybe Pittsburgh decided he did something that can’t go unpunished, but they made the Patriots a whole lot stronger, adding more firepower to a very varied running game.
This game put another black mark on Stafford’s career when it comes to his competence when playing on the road. It’s never just him, obviously, but outside the comforts of playing in Detroit, Stafford again and again looks like a mediocre quarterback with a big arm that didn’t really get anything to happen for him in the loss to the Patriots, which might prove to be costly as the Lions lost the top spot they held for quite some time in the NFC North.
The Patriots now share the best record in the NFL, not just the AFC, with the Cardinals. They’re looking great, almost unbeatable, and not just at home, even without Tom Brady doing anything too outstanding. It goes to show that even though Bill Belichick needed time bringing this group together into their highest gear, he still probably stands out and above the rest of the NFL in coaching and preparing each week for a different opponent, always finding a way to expose weaknesses.