The Patriots broke into the win column with an at-times-dominant, 30-28, victory, over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. The first units on both sides completely overwhelmed the hosts until the midway point of the second quarter but eventually slowed and allowed Detroit to mount a comeback.
Jimmy Garoppolo was able to lead a pair of field goal drives in the final five minutes to allow New England to walk away with the victory, its first of the summer.
Here are some random thoughts from tonight's game.
-Fast starts are nothing new to the Patriots and we all caught a glimpse of a scenario that is likely to unfold often in 2017. The offense opened the game with Tom Brady at his surgical best, completing all four of his passes for 59 yards during a 75-yard touchdown drive. The march included a nice mix of Dion Lewis runs with passes to Julian Edelman (more on him in a moment) with Brady operating at times with tempo and the no huddle approach. The Patriots had Detroit scrambling and wouldn't relent. In turn the defense forced a turnover on the Lions first play when Matthew Stafford's pass to Golden Tate was knocked loose by Malcolm Butler. Brady then took the quick change and hit Chris Hogan for a 32-yard touchdown. The game was less than five minutes old and it was already 13-0. That was a big part of the team's MO back in 2007 when the offense suffocated the life out of opponents on a regular basis.
-Unfortunately it was not all roses for the offense as Edelman went down with a potentially serious right knee injury. Multiple reports indicated the Patriots fear the wideout tore his ACL but that had yet to be confirmed. Edelman caught three passes on the drive before crumbling to the turf after the final one, suffering a non-contact injury that ended his night.
-Depending on Edelman's status, if he's out long term it would open up a roster spot but not necessarily for a wide receiver. Devin Lucien and Austin Carr would be candidates if Bill Belichick went that route but D.J. Foster would also factor into that mix. Foster was a wide receiver in college and has shown the ability to catch the ball effectively in the preseason. He did enough to earn a roster spot last season despite being inactive most of the year. There's also the possibility that Belichick doesn't use a receiver at all and instead simply looks for the next-best player on the bubble. One factor to keep in mind is the punt return game. Danny Amendola could be a more important piece on offense if Edelman is out, and Belichick may not want to expose him to further punishment as the punt returner. Many people believe Cyrus Jones could be on the bubble and perhaps his presence as a returner could make him safe.
-Interestingly, Belichick had both Jones and Amendola back deep together to return the Lions first punt of the night. At times in the past he's employed two return men but generally has one further upfield and one back deep. Against Detroit both were almost side by side instead.
-Mike Gillislee made his preseason debut and Belichick may have offered a glimpse about his potential as a goal line back. He entered the game for the first time with the Patriots already leading 13-0 and the ball sitting at the Lions 1. He easily worked his way off right tackle behind James Develin and James O'Shaughnessy with the latter serving as the third tight end. When the Lions were flagged on the PAT, Belichick opted to accept the penalty and attempt a two-point conversion, which Gillislee and the Patriots converted by running the same exact play. Gillislee later added a 27-yard run, showing some big play ability in addition to his nose for the goal line.
-Perhaps overshadowed by the tremendous offense early on, the defense was equally dominant. On the Lions first four series the Patriots limited them to 36 yards and no first downs. Butler punched the ball away from Tate to stop the first drive and three punts soon followed. Matt Patricia used a rotation at corner as the first half progressed, starting with Eric Rowe as the third corner before having him replace first Butler and then Stephon Gilmore in the base defense. Gilmore and Rowe were solid in coverage, particularly Gilmore who also came up with an excellent tackle to prevent a first down on an early third down. Butler, however, struggled after he forced the early turnover. He allowed Marvin Jones to get past him for the Lions first touchdown, a play in which he lost his technique when he looked back for the football.
-In the second half the rotations on defense continued, only they moved up front. Alan Branch, Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown all saw action with units that generally featured backups throughout the third quarter. The way Branch played he seemed like a veteran who wasn't all that happy being on the field in such a situation. On his series he overpowered the Lions guard and nearly broke up a running play in the backfield and then followed that with a one-armed sack of Stafford. He soon took a seat on the bench for the rest of the night.
-Jordan Richards opened the night as one of the players who figures to be on the bubble and Belichick and Patricia put him on the field early and often. He was utilized in different ways, operating as a pseudo-linebacker near the line of scrimmage at times. Unfortunately he continues to struggle with his tackling, particularly on Dwayne Washington's 18-yard touchdown reception when he missed badly after a short catch. Richards' roster spot is by no means safe at this point.
-The Patriots coughed up their 24-0 lead and trailed Detroit, 28-24, heading down the stretch. To that point Garoppolo hadn't moved the ball at all, closing the first half and the entire third quarter without managing a single first down. But as has often been the case with him, the no-huddle attack seemed to serve him well. He led a pair of field goal drives to close the game, the second ending with a 45-yard Stephen Gostkowski boot that won it. Garoppolo finished 7 of 12 for 83 yards and did a nice job of handling the late-game situations.