Saturday, August 26, 2017

Starters Hammer Lions In Dominating Patriots' Performance

The third preseason game on the National Football League schedule is traditionally what the media has dubbed a "Dress Rehearsal" for the regular season, but don't call it that around Bill Belichick.

"I don't think you can compare this game to a regular season game, though I've heard people try to do that." the sometimes-virulent head ball coach of the New England Patriots said last year before their third preseason game. "In terms of game-planning and strategy, and what we see in the regular season compared to what we see in the third preseason game, I don't think you're in the same universe."
Chris Hogan hauls in a 32 yard TD from Brady

"We're still running our basic plays." the Dark Master continued, "Our opponents, we'd expect, would run their basic plays."

Assuming this is true, God help the rest of the NFL when the Patriots open up their playbook.

In a mere fourteen minutes of work and running their "basic" plays on offense, quarterback Tom Brady and his starting unit had their way with the Detroit Lions' top defense, scoring on four straight possessions to start the game and racing out to a 24 point lead before Belichick decided he'd shown the football world enough to scare the living bejesus out of them...

...benching Brady and the most of the starters on both sides of the ball in what eventually evolved into a come-from-behind 30-28 Patriots' victory, a last second Stephen Gostkowski field goal providing the winning margin at Ford Field in downtown Detroit on Friday evening.

So dominating and brutish were the Patriots that Lions' color commentator Chris Spielman was reduced to an exasperated bundle of cliches, spitting out sentence fragments and shooting barbs at the defense for what he termed as being a "failure to compete".

No, Chris.  That was simply what the Patriots' offense is going to do to folks this season.

Brady was white-hot, going 11 of 12 for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter, finishing his night 12 of 15 for 174 yards - yielding the reins to backup Jimmy Garoppolo late in the first half after throwing an interception in Detriot's end zone when he and dangerous wideout Chris Hogan got their signals crossed on a deep out and up route into double coverage.

The rest of Brady's throws were a clinic in precision, the only footballs to hit the ground incomplete being a drop by Brandin Cooks on a crossing route, and a drop by tight end Rob Gronkowski on what was nearly a spectacular, twisting grab up the seam on a throw in which Brady was hit from behind just as he was releasing the ball.

The second and third offensive units were just plain offensive and unable to mount any sort of threat until late in the contest once the Lions had scored 27 unanswered points, gaining just 28 yards in four possessions until Garoppolo led two fourth quarter scoring drives.

Despite the miscommunication with Brady on the interception, Hogan was unstoppable and scored on a sit-down route from seven-yards out for the first Patriots' score, then displayed terrific concentration as Brady laid a perfect spiral right into Hogan's bucket from 32 yards out and into double coverage.

Dion Lewis started the game at running back and had a rather pedestrian showing before yielding to James White, who seems to have used his solid performance in last February's Super Bowl as a confidence springboard in the running game, posting 25 yards on only four carries (6.25 yards per carry) right into the teeth of the Lions' run defense...

...while Mike Gillislee took over from there and played the remainder of the first half, getting his feet wet in the Patriots' offense by scoring from the one yard line for New England's third touchdown, converting a two-point try with a burst up the middle, then later giving the Patriots' a little breathing room from deep in their own territory, rumbling 27 yards while displaying the foot speed and vision that caused Belichick to target him in free agency.

While all of this was happening, Matt Patricia's defense bared it's teeth in earnest on Friday night, sandwiching three punts between two turnovers and allowing just 78 yards of total offense before Patricia started replacing his entire secondary and most of his front seven late in the first half.

New England's rush defense came out in force, holding the Lions' running game to a paltry 33 yards on 11 carries in the first half, with five-technique ends Alan Branch and Lawrence Guy flexing their muscles and sealing everything inside, while flushing Stafford from the pocket consistently, Branch recording the game's only sack, a one-handed "get-back-here" job, dragging Stafford down from behind.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler bounced back from a horrific showing against the Houston Texans six-days earlier by punching a ball loose from Lions' receiver Golden Tate on Detroit's first possession - leading to the Brady-to-Hogan 32 yard connection for six - and then deflected a pass that ended up in the hands of fellow-corner Eric Rowe.

For the game, Stafford posted a decent stat line of 15 of 22 for 190 yards, two touchdowns and the Rowe pick, but much of that came late in the first half and early in the second as he led consecutive scoring drives to slice New England's lead to ten points before Lions' coach Jim Caldwell pulled him in favor of Jake Ruddock in the middle of the third quarter...

...but going just 7 of 13 for 55 yards before finally finding his rhythm in the hurry-up against a three-deep zone with time winding down in the first half.

Despite the dominating performance of the starting units, not all was cheeseburgers and beer for New England, as they most likely lost receiver Julian Edelman for the season with what is believed to be a non-contact ACL tear in his right knee and the reserves on both sides of the ball looked lost for most of the second half...

...though that can be chalked up to the fact that it looked as if Belichick was using this game as a conditioning tool, particularly for his defensive line as he kept his starters in the game until the last couple of series, and they appeared to be completely spent towards the end of their time on the field.

But that is nit-picking and reaching to find things to complain about on a night that was a seeming coronation of what most fans and experts already knew: this Patriots' team is loaded on both sides of the ball, and Friday night's short, intense blitzkrieg over, around and through a decent Detroit Lions squad should have color commentators around the league grasping at straws to explain to their viewers why their team looks like they are nothing but road fodder for a Patriots' team hell-bent on trophy number six...

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