1st & 2nd Quarters
…New England hasn't had a chance to return many kickoff so far this season, but they have a potentially dangerous threat in that area in Cordarrelle Patterson. He showed a glimpse of what he's capable of providing to this team on the game's opening kickoff, which he took 45 yards from out of the Patriots' end zone.
…Even with that advantageous field position, the Patriots couldn't move the ball more than 10 yards on either of its two first-quarter possessions. Detroit's defenders were more aggressive up front and in coverage downfield, as Patriots receivers couldn't find open pass lanes and rookie RB Sony Michel was swarmed on two of his three touches near the line of scrimmage. One of those was a short pass reception that Detroit snuffed our right away.
…Defensively, the Patriots came out in a (for them) non-traditional 3-4 alignment, perhaps in an effort to counter the Lions' perceived strengths or the generate more pressure on Detroit QB Matthew Stafford.
It didn't prove all that effective, however. The Lions' o-line mostly dominated the line of scrimmage, allowing Detroit to run well, stay in bounds, and chew up significant clock. Once again, New England didn't do much blitzing, and often had to play in its nickel sub package.
When they did this, they generally took out one of the four linebackers to add a fifth defensive back (generally a cornerback, such as Jonathan Jones). Lions receivers had the advantage more often than not, finding openings by running great routes and beating their defenders by enough of a margin for a well-protected Stafford to find his targets rather easily.
…Yes, CB Stephon Gilmore was the defender beaten on the first Lions touchdown, but it's a bit unfair to single him out here, as he did a tremendous job of nearly thwarting the play.
WR Kenny Golladay ran a sneaky crossing pattern inside the 5-yard line, and Gilmore had to fight through a considerable congestion of bodies just to meet Golladay on the other side. Gilmore wrapped him up just short of the goal line and did well to force the ball loose, but Golladay (after a challenge by the Lions) was correctly shown to have broken the plane of the goal line just prior to Gilmore doing so.
…It wasn't until late in the second quarter that TE Rob Gronkowski finally saw a pass from QB Tom Brady come his way. It no coincidence that this was also the first Patriots drive of the night that lasted more than three plays.
3rd& 4th Quarters
…Rookie LB Ja'Whaun Bentley is quickly becoming a key figure on the Patriots defense. He's seeing more playing time and taking on more responsibilities each week. The 2018 draft choice made perhaps his best play of the young season when he dropped into pass coverage to guard TE Luke Willson early in the third quarter.
Willson motioned from right to left pre-snap, and Bentley sort of drifted slowly in that direction – not a full-on chase, which is always the giveaway of man coverage. At the snap, Willson ran a post deep downfield and Bentley immediately followed him.
Though Willson had a step on Bentley, the rookie was positioned just right to step in front of Stafford's pass. Perhaps the QB didn't think Bentley had the speed or instincts to be there at that time, but Bentley proved him wrong while giving New England the ball near midfield.
…On the ensuing drive, Brady again found Gronk when the Lions failed to double-team him. The big tight end didn't have many of those chances, however. Although he was the team's leading receiver against Detroit, he only managed four grabs (five targets) for 51 yards. As he is the main offensive threat right now, he's going to continue receiving such attention from opposing defenses.
…On the bright side, that double-teaming of Gronk helped RB James White exploit his 1-on-1 matchup with safety Quandre Diggs as White came out of the backfield as a receiver at the end of that drive.
Gronkowski, from the slot, drew two Lions defenders with him as he moved into the middle of the end zone. That cleared out the entire right side of the end zone, where White raced to the back corner. Diggs trailed tightly behind, but Brady fired a precise strike that Diggs never saw coming and White made a tremendous catch with Diggs blanketing him.
…Second-year DE Deatrich Wise, playing with an injured finger that required his left hand to be bandaged up like a mitten, registered a great sack of Stafford on the Lions' next drive.
Facing left tackle Taylor Decker 1-on-1, Wise initially feinted as if he was going to attack to Decker's inside, but then Wise planted his left foot hard and sped to the outside of Decker. Nice individual effort from a young player who continues to mature on the field with plays like that.
…Certainly looked as if there was a coverage communications breakdown on the next Lions touchdown between Gilmore and safety Duron Harmon. Gilmore apparently thought Harmon was going to pick up WR Marvin Jones as he raced diagonally from left to right across the back of the Patriots defense. Harmon didn't see the same thing, however, which gave Jones a couple of steps on Gilmore as the corner hesitated initially to allow what he thought was going to be Harmon taking over responsibility for Jones.
Again, Gilmore was the apparent victim of a Lions touchdown, but he might not have had to be in that position in the first place.
…RB Rex Burkhead left the game in the second half with what the Patriots announced was a neck injury. After suffering a concussion in the opener versus Houston, Burkhead's health status will be closely monitored this coming practice week.
…Even before Burkhead departed early, Michel appeared to be taking on more of a role in the offense. He wasn't perfect, but once again led the team in rushing and is gradually earning the trust of his teammates and coaches. The o-line needs to do a better job now of opening up holes for Michel.
…Looked like the Patriots decided not to risk covering kickoffs versus Detroit. Instead of intentionally kicking short, as the Patriots so often do to force other teams to return the ball, Stephen Gostkowski sent all three of his kickoffs out of the end zone for touchbacks. New England struggled a bit with kick coverage in the first couple of outings.