Monday, November 24, 2014

Patriots take down another division leader; stomp Lions 34-9

The Patriots went to their four-minute offense on Sunday to close out a big win over the Detroit Lions

Lions and turnovers and penalties, oh my!

The New England Patriots committed 11 penalties on Sunday afternoon, one of them negating a would-be 74 yard punt return for touchdown by Julian Edelman, and quarterback Tom Brady threw a goal line interception that wiped out another New England scoring opportunity - but all those things did was turn a rout into a simple blowout.

Brady more than atoned for his ill-advised gaffe by completing 38 of 53 passing attempts for 349 yards and two touchdowns and newly re-signed Legarrette Blount scored twice up the gut from short range as the Patriots continued their impressive streak of dominance against division leaders, this time stomping the even more mistake prone Detroit Lions 34-9 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Danny Amendola returns a kickoff 81 yards to set the up the Patriots' second score

With the win, New England has now defeated the AFC North leading Cincinnati Bengals to start their current seven-game winning streak, then adding wins over the AFC West leading Denver Broncos and AFC South leading Indianapolis Colts in successive weeks leading into Sunday's showdown with the NFC North co-leading Lions, winning all four by an average of 40-17.

Needless to say, these New England Patriots are on a serious roll - and Brady acknowledged as much in his post-game presser.

"I'll let this one settle in a little bit" Brady said of the win over the Lions. "Then tonight I'm sure I'll get after it.", meaning starting preparation for the Patriots' next opponent, the Green Bay Packers. "They are a great football team.  We seem to have played a lot of them lately.  They are the next ones on the schedule, so it will be a great challenge for us."

Newly re-signed running back Legarrette Blount picked up right where he left off last January for the Patriots, rushing 12 times for 78 yards, most of those coming on bursts of 23 and 33 yards as the Lions had a tough time tackling the 250 pound steamroller.

"He's a big guy, he runs hard," Brady said of Blount. "and once he breaks your defense, he got a little bit of explosion so it was great to see on a couple of those big runs."

The Patriots ran the ball 20 times - which is right on the average that teams try the ground game against the Lions' top-ranked rush defense - and averaged 4.5 yards per carry as a team, second only to what the New York Jets put on them back in Week 4, but this game was all about Brady and his plethora of excellent pass catchers...

...with Edelman putting in his usual yeoman's effort with 11 balls for 89 yards to go along with Brandon LaFell's 9 for 98, while tight ends Rob Gronkowsk and Tim Wright logged five a piece with Wright being on the business end of Brady's two scoring tosses.

In stark contrast to the Patriots' efficient attack, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered through a miserable afternoon, hitting on just 18 of 46 attempts for a pedestrian 264 yards and one interception - but it certainly wasn't all on him as his receivers dropped many balls in crucial situations.

"I think we moved the ball pretty well, and we had opportunities to catch balls in the end zone" Lions' coach Jim Caldwell said in his post-game comments. "We didn't make plays, and when you don't make plays, it obviously looks like you are inept in that regard."

Of course, it wasn't all just not making plays, as the Patriots' defense had something to do with a lot of what went wrong with Caldwell's offense.

Darrelle Revis was sensational once again, covering Detroit's Golden Tate for much of the game - and while Tate caught four balls for 97 yards, Revis knocked away four others.  Brandon Browner took on the persona of Optimus Prime, punking "Megatron", receiver Calvin Johnson, and dogging his every move - and any pass catcher that dared cross the middle got a taste of Jamie Collins...

New England's once porous run defense enjoyed their third straight solid outing, with veteran tackles Vince Wilfork and Buffalo retread Alan Branch clogging the middle, while linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins mopped up just about everything else - and with safety Patrick Chung continuing to impress in his second go-around with the Patriots.

The unit may have given up 91 yards to the Lions, but when taken in proper context, it was far more viable than those numbers suggest.

Lithe runner Joique Bell took 19 of Detroit's 25 total running plays - many of them right into the heart of the New England run defense - and paid the price with 2.5 tough yards per carry resulting in 48 of the Lion's rushing total. Theo Riddick was serviceable as a change up to Bell, carrying twice for 12 yards...

...the rest of their ground production coming via a Golden Tate reverse for 13 yards and three Matthew Stafford desperation scrambles for another 15.  Given the sources of the production, the New England run defense bottled the Lions up pretty tight.

But something that probably doesn't get discussed as much as it should is the positive impact special teams have had on the team all season long, and it again showed up in force on Sunday afternoon, what with Danny Amendola's impromptu 81-yard kick return that set the Patriots up for a touchdown...

...but also the clutch play of punter Ryan Allen, whose veteran play in a potentially disastrous scenario saved New England from having to play catch-up.

With the Patriots offense stymied early by the Lions' defense and looking up at Detriot three point lead, Allen fielded a bad snap from long-snapper Danny Aiken at about his own six-yard-line, taking it on the short hop with just enough time to get the kick away - and what a kick it was.

Going 78 yards in the air, Allen's net of 66 yards got the Patriots out of a deep hole and completely switched field position in their favor - backing the Lions up to their own 20 when their starting point for the ensuing drive should have been 20 yards further upfield.

"Sure was, sure was" Belichick smiled when asked if Allen's punt was a big play in the game. "Big field position play, yup."

When Allen was asked about it, he cited working on fielding purposeful bad snaps in practice and the work of his coverage units as the key to the unit's "Good Operation" - and when one of the beat writers mentioned that the celebration that the unit had on the field after that play had the look of a scoring play, Allen endeared himself to Belichick's dark heart...

"We celebrate good field position.  That's what we celebrate."

In two short sentences, Allen summed up this Patriots' team attitude.  Everything is important, and there is no such thing as a trivial detail - these guys are all business, and thus far into a season full of promise, business is pretty darned good.

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