The Patriots defeated the Lions on Sunday powered by a stellar outing from their defense while getting five field goals from Nick Folk, as New England got their second win of the season, 29-0.
Rookie Bailey Zappe was really solid in his first start after getting some initial fill-in action last weekend against the Packers. Zappe had one tipped ball interception but otherwise looked impressive, avoiding any killer mistakes while letting Folk and the defense do the heavy lifting to build a first-half lead. His third-quarter touchdown strike to Jakobi Meyers was a nice exclamation point for the rookie that helped seal the game.
It was an especially impressive game by the defense, who tamed the top-rated Lions offense with their best effort of the season, pitching the shutout while getting stops on all six of the fourth downs that Detroit went for.
Now 2-3, New England is back on the winning track. Here are the key takeaways from the much-needed win.
A 4th-down stop and a field goal
After winning the opening toss and deferring their first possession until the second half, the Patriots defense got a key 4th-down stop on the Lions initial drive that set up the offense on Detroit's side of the 50. Stout play by Carl Davis and Christian Barmore allowed linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley to come through and get the fourth-down stop.
It was an early-game tone-setter for the Patriots defense but unfortunately, the offense could not capitalize after starting on the Detroit 45-yard line. One 23-yard completion to Hunter Henry was the only big play of the drive as Zappe's third-down throw to Henry fell incomplete.
But as always, Nick Folk was money from medium range, kicking his 59th-straight field goal under 50 yards, making the 37-yarder to give New England an early 3-0 lead. It would be a recurring theme of the day.
The Pats would pick up two more impactful fourth-down stops early in the third quarter as their clutch play on the down was a big factor in the win.
A pick by Jack and a big run by Rhamondre
Jack Jones continued his hot play, coming up with a first-quarter interception that was his third takeaway in two games. Jones' pick was a timely one with Detroit riding a hot running game down the field on their second possession of the game, making it all the way to New England's 18-yard line.
With Jared Goff targeting tight end T.J. Hockenson up the sideline, Jones made an excellent break on the ball, coming down with both feet just in bounds for a game-changing play.
That stopped the Lions in their tracks and the Patriots offense continued the positive complementary trend on their ensuing possession with Rhamondre Stevenson keeping his balance and escaping for a 49-run up the middle that flipped field position.
However, the Pats offense flamed out in the red zone again, settling this time for Folk's 60th field goal in a row under 50 yards, this one from 32 yards, that gave the Pats a 6-0 lead.
Tipped INT opens Lions' cage, D slams door shut again
Zappe and the offense's good start hit a skid during their third possession of the game, as the quarterback fired a pass that went off of Nelson Agholor's hands and was intercepted by the Lions. Detroit took over at midfield looking to take the lead with a touchdown. However, the defense stepped up with another game-changing play.
It wasn't immediately perfect though, as the Lions were able to convert a 3rd-and-16 that went for 20 yards to Khalif Raymond. It looked like the Patriots zone coverage couldn't quite hold up long enough for the pass rush to disrupt the throw and Goff found Raymond in a void. But that was the last first down they'd get on the drive, with Adrian Phillips sniffing out a third-down run for a loss setting up a fourth down from the Patriots 32-yard line.
On fourth down, Matthew Judon picked up another sack, stripping the ball from Goff, with Kyle Dugger picking it up and returning it for a 59-yard fumble-six that extended New England's lead to 13-0. Judon was a game-changer in this game as he continues his hot start to the season, one accentuated by his all-red uniform on Sunday.
The Patriots defense had their work cut out for them in this one, facing a potent offense while starting a rookie quarterback, but in the first half they contributed two takeaways that translated to important points on the scoreboard.
Zappe to Meyers FTW
Despite playing within the system for most of the day, Bailey Zappe produced his best throw of the day on a third-quarter 24-yard touchdown to Jakobi Meyers that made it a 26-0 game and effectively iced the win for New England.
Despite missing two weeks, Meyers stepped right back into action and was his usual reliable self. And while the team didn't ask too much of Zappe, he was fully up to the challenge and showed growing confidence over the course of the game.
Credit should go to the coaching staff as well for putting together a good game plan that both managed their rookie starter but also pushed the ball downfield in key spots. New England didn't punt until the fourth quarter while they were up multiple scores.
Pats are now 2-3
Coming off a two-game losing streak, the Patriots badly needed this win to get back on track. The fact that it came with their third-string quarterback is a nice boost, but much of the credit must go to the defense and special teams. Five field goals and six fourth-down stops to go with a fumble-six accounted for the vast majority of points.
The Patriots offense still had their share of impressive plays as the operation looked smooth throughout the game despite being down at one point to just one healthy running back. Tyquan Thornton made his debut, while tight end Hunter Henry had his most productive game of the season. Once again, the quarterback didn't matter at all to Jakobi Meyers who continues to produce no matter the situation or quarterback.
With the solid outing, there are reasons for optimism both about Zappe's future and how things might look when Mac Jones gets back under center with an offense that is finding its stride. The lack of red zone production is one area to focus on for improvement.
Winning solves a lot of problems and silences a lot of questions. For now, the Patriots can regroup and know that they're still very much in the thick of it.