Here are some random thoughts from the Patriots 34-9 victory over the Detroit Lions:
Brown out – There was a lot of pre-game speculation regarding how the Patriots would employ their secondary against the Lions and on the first snap it was Brandon Browner locked up with Calvin Johnson and Darrelle Revis on Golden Tate. InterestinglyMatthew Stafford decided to target Revis to start and had some success, hitting Tate twice for 41 yards on the opening drive that ended in a field goal. Meanwhile Browner locked horns with Johnson, arguably the most dangerous receiver in the game, and he dominated. Browner was never beaten badly and was always in close proximity of Johnson. Johnson finished with four catches for 58 yards and was not a factor in the game. I don't know if Browner is simply rounding into shape after missing the first five weeks but it was by far his best game as a Patriot.
Wright stuff –** Given the Lions reputation as a great run defense it was not surprising to see the Patriots come out with spread formations. As part of the five-receiver look, Tim Wright joined Rob Gronkowski with Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman along with Shane Vereen. Wright wasn't targeted often but he made the most of his first two chances. Wright seemed to be the forgotten man for the Lions because on two occasions he was completely uncovered and grabbed a pair of easy touchdowns from Tom Brady in the first half. On the first Wright released from the left slot, took a few steps into the end zone and simply turned around to grab the pass. On the second the Lions never accounted for him and Brady found him after an extended stay in the pocket.
Setting the pace – After a slow start offensively the Patriots appeared intent on picking up the pace and it seemed to work. On the third series of the game the Patriots marched the length of the field using the hurry-up and eventually scored their first touchdown on a 4-yard pass to Wright. New England continued to push the pace thereafter and the Lions never appeared to regain the comfort they opened the game with on defense. By the time the half arrived Brady & Co. already had 24 points on the board against the top-rated defense in football, and the tempo of the offense had something to do with it.
Snap to it – Danny Aiken has seemingly been on shaky ground all season long. He was released during the final cuts before the start of the season, only to be brought back just before the opener. Since then he's delivered a handful of off-target snaps, including a pair on Sunday. The first came on the second punt of the day when he one-hopped Ryan Allen and was bailed out when the punter nailed a 66-yarder after fielding the snap. In the third quarter Aiken forced Allen to move to his left and the Lions nearly blocked the kick as a result. The Patriots have had long snapper Tyler Ott, who was with the team during camp, in for a tryout a few weeks ago so perhaps Bill Belichick is still uneasy about the situation.
The New England Patriots take on the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, November 23, 2014.
Akeem the dream –Akeem Ayers' first month in a Patriots uniform has been quite different from his time in Tennessee. Ayers was an afterthought in Nashville, riding the pine under first-year coachKen Whisenhunt** before Belichick brought him to New England a week before the trade deadline. Ayers has made an impact with the Patriots and on Sunday he recorded his third sack in just four games with his new club, coming up with a big play on a third down in the first quarter. Ayers also deserves credit for getting up to speed quickly to the point where he has been an active participant in several of the team's various sub packages.
Safety in numbers – The Patriots used a lot of packages with six defensive backs and used three corner and three safeties in a lot of those looks. Browner, Revis and Kyle Arrington did a nice job locking up with the receivers while Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon worked the back end. Harmon and McCourty seemed to play in two-deep looks on a lot of snaps while Chung maintained his traditional role around the line of scrimmage in coverage against tight ends and in the running game. Harmon's playing time increased from recent weeks and he held up well patrolling the deep part of the field alongside McCourty. Overall it was one of the better games for the secondary.
Gray area – After taking the league by storm a week ago by rushing for 201 yards and four touchdowns against Indianapolis, Jonas Gray did not take a single snap against Detroit. The Patriots weren't expected to run the ball often against the top-ranked run defense and indeed Brady attempted 53 passes on the afternoon. But even late in the game when LeGarrette Blount did his best to grind out the clock, Gray remained on the sideline with his helmet in seemingly ready to go. Belichick would not indicate if Gray's inactivity had anything to do with discipline following his late arrival to the stadium on Friday, but for whatever reason Gray did not see any action.
With a twist – Rob Ninkovich took advantage of some nice scheming up front to get in Matthew Stafford's face on a few occasions. Ninkovich lined up on the outside and looped up the middle to get a free run at Stafford on one first-half sack, and later in the game he executed the same move perfectly only to have his second sack negated by a holding penalty against Jamie Collins. The twists inside seemed to confuse the Lions offensive line, which had struggled all season long protecting Stafford, and the timely pressure was a big reason for the Patriots defensive success.
Return to form –** Danny Amendola has provided a spark on kick returns since being inserted into the role several weeks ago and on Sunday he delivered his biggest contribution to date. After a Lions field goal cut the lead to 7-6 in the second quarter, Amendola ripped off an 81-yard return to the Detroit 22. Two plays later the Patriots upped the lead to 14-6 courtesy of LeGarrette Blount's first of two touchdowns. Amendola did a nice job of making tacklers miss early in the return before outrunning the coverage as he crossed to the right sideline. It was an underrated play early in the victory.
Extra points – The win ensured the Patriots of a winning record for the 14th consecutive season, which is tied for the fourth-longest such streak in NFL history. … The win was the Patriots 15th straight at home. … New England's defense failed to allow a touchdown for the second time this season. The first time came in Week 3 at home against Oakland in a 16-9 victory. … The Patriots improved to 42-9 against the NFC since 2002, which is the best inter-conference record during in the league during that time. The team also improved to 40-14 in the month of November since 2001, also best in the league. … After making his debut against Detroit 14 years ago, Brady took down the Lions by the same exact score the Patriots lost in his debut on Thanksgiving 2002 – 34-9. … Brady passed for 349 yards, marking the 63rd time he's been above the 300-yard mark in his career. That ties him with Dan Marino for third all-time behind Peyton Manning (90) and Drew Brees (83).