FOXBOROUGH –** Same result. It just took a little longer this time, and with fewer points.
It actually looked Detroit might make a game of it when the Lions began moving the ball on the opening drive against the Patriots. And even when New England made a big play – Rob Ninkovich's 3rd-down sack in the second quarter – it was negated by a Patriots penalty. The Patriots kept Detroit in striking distance in the first quarter with a combination of penalties and miscues. They committed 13 total penalties (second-most by New England this season), 11 of which were accepted, and dropped a season-high seven passes.
Yet, by halftime, the Patriots were leading 24-6 and the listless Lions didn't appear ready to roar anytime soon. Credit their defense, though, with making life tough for a Patriots offense that had been piling up points in the 40s and 50s against good teams the past few weeks. A field goal and a late TD were all Tom Brady and the offense could muster in the second half.
The New England Patriots take on the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, November 23, 2014.
Even when they're not at their very best, these Patriots are still beating quality teams by more than three touchdowns.
"I don't know all the stats," cornerback Darrelle Revis maintained. "I just know that we come out and we play hard, we play tough. This team is dialed in very well, and we execute well. It's panning out for us. We're working hard, and we're dialing on these guys real good.
"Leadership comes from everybody, and we appreciate that from everybody. And everybody listens. We have no egos, and guys want to win."
"It felt great," wide receiver Brandon LaFell said of the 34-9 win, "but at the end of the day it felt like we left a lot of plays out there. We started off on fire and then we just got in our own way with penalties in the third quarter. When we needed a big drive at the end of the game we came out there and produced one."
"We're a confident group, but our confidence comes from our practice execution and our preparation," observed wide receiver Julian Edelman, "so we definitely have to go out there and keep trying to get better. That's how you build confidence through the week. That's how you're able to sleep at night. If you execute in practice and when you go do it in the game, it helps out. But we definitely have a lot to do better."
Players often like to say they "tune out the noise" when it comes to outside criticism, but clearly, they hear what's being said about them and use it as motivation. Co-captain Vince Wilfork admitted as much in his post-game remarks, which touched on the team's rough start to the season and impressive turnaround of late.
"Just the character we show. So many people saying how bad we were. Everything possibly negative people could say, they were saying about us. Our number one job was to block out all the noise, ignore it, and just concentrate on what we need to do to get better and that was our number one goal and that's still out number one goal. Now you look back 11 weeks later and we're one of the best teams in the league.
"This team that we have now is a tough football team, mentally, physically. Bill [Belichick] asks a lot of us and we give a lot. We knew what it was going to take to turn it around and we did it."
But Wilfork, like the rest of his teammates and coaches, knows the Patriots still need to do it for several more weeks. And perhaps their toughest test thus far comes one week from tonight in frosty Green Bay against a powerful Packers team.
"I'll let this one settle in for a little bit," QB Tom Brady allowed, "and then I'm sure tonight I'll be getting after it. [The Packers] are a great football team. We've played a lot of those it seems lately. They're the next one on the schedule, so it will be a great challenge for us."