After a pair of convincing victories to start the preseason, New England was thoroughly devoured by the Detroit Lions in the third, what is traditionally the barometer exhibition contest.
In all three phases, the team seemed flat from the get-go and never could quite get out of its funk. The 34-10 final score was indicative of how lopsided the affair was throughout.
"It wasn't our best game, obviously," quarterback Tom Brady told reporters, "from the first series on, we could never really get in a rhythm. It was a bad night all around. No excuses for it."
"I just feel like they outplayed us tonight," cornerback Devin McCourty. "Have to watch the film, but my gut feeling is we didn't play well tonight. Right after the game, it's hard [to diagnose why]. We'll go watch the film. You can always find reasons."
With a short turn-around before their next and finale preseason tune-up against the Giants Thursday night, players were anxious to get back to work even before boarding the charter flight home to New England.
"After days like this," Brady observed, "you want to get back out on the practice field. You don't want to ride the wave of emotions.
"We're confident as a team. We've got a big week coming up … see what we can do against the Giants."
Starting units don't normally see much action in the fourth preseason game, but after his team's subpar performance in Detroit, Bill Belichick was considering all options.
"I don't know," he responded when asked if this outcome would affect his planning for Thursday. "It probably does."
The following is an overview of the key areas of competition in all three phases of Saturday's Patriots-Lions contest:
Matt Light saw his first game action of the preseason, starting at this customary left tackle position. He remained there until the 11:40 mark of the second quarter, when rookie Nate Solder replaced him. Sebastian Vollmer occupied his normal right tackle spot until the second half, when first-year man Steve Maneri filled in.
Rookie running back Shane Vereen, who returned to practice last week after missing nearly all of training camp with a hamstring injury, did not make the trip to Detroit, nor did we see Vereen's fellow draftee and position mate, Stevan Ridley, who missed practices last week.
At QB, Brian Hoyer replaced Brady in the third quarter. He led some drives before being relieved by rookie Ryan Mallett at the end of the fourth quarter. Neither was able to direct a scoring drive for the Patriots.
A few notable players did not make the trip to Detroit, defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis among them, although they had taken part in practice last week.
Cornerback Leigh Bodden, who has also been out of commission recently, was not on the trip to Detroit. Rookie corner Ras-I Dowling practiced in the days immediately preceding the game, but did not get the call to play Saturday night.
After missing the bulk of training camp, safety James Sanders suited up in practice this past week and started the game against Detroit.
Cornerback Kyle Arrington had a rollercoaster night. First, he was flagged for pass interference, then rebounded a few plays later with a sack of Matthew Stafford. He later regressed, however, surrendering a touchdown to tight end Tony Scheffler. With 2:41 left in the third, Arrington bounced back by coming down with a deflected pass for an interception at the back of the end zone.
"Early, yeah, I gave up a play," the philosophical young corner conceded in the post-game locker room. "But, hey, that's the life of a corner. I made some good plays, too. The main thing is to try to get consistent from here."
A rare bright spot for the Patriots Saturday night was the performance of Julian Edelman on special teams. He averaged exactly 17 yards on two punt returns, and had a nice 32-yard pickup on his lone kickoff return. The receiver also caught both passes thrown his way.
Meanwhile, Stephen Gostkowski kicked off in competitive circumstances for the first time this summer. He had yielded those duties to rookie Chris Koepplin heretofore while working his way back from quadriceps surgery. He proceeded to boot the opening kickoff of the game through the back on the end zone.