8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Patriots -7, Over/Under: 53.5
Longtime acquaintances meet as new opponents as the struggling Detroit Lions host the New England Patriots on Sunday Night from Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s matchup marks a rare occurrence indeed, as the Patriots (1-1, 2nd in AFC East) come into their encounter with Detroit looking to bounce back from defeat. After besting the Houston Texans in the Season Opener (27-20), Bill Belichick’s charges traveled south for an AFC Championship Game Rematch with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and promptly took it on the chin in 31-20 thumping that felt a lot worse than the final score would indicate. In the swarming heat and humidity of northeastern Florida, New England was extremely sluggish out of the gate, quickly falling behind 14-0 in the First Quarter, and eventually found themselves behind 24-3 midway through the third stanza. Though Tom Brady (24-of-35, 234 YDS, 2 TD) and the Offense finally got the ball moving against he host’s staunch Defense, it was a case of too little too late for the visiting side. When it was all said and done, the Pats were torched by the much maligned Blake Bortles (29-of-45, 376 YDS, 4 TD, 1 INT) and an Offense that they apparently didn’t take seriously, as the Jags hung up Twenty-Seven First Downs, a staggering 476 Total Yards, and a sterling 10-of-14 conversion rate on Third Down (71.4%). Furthermore, were surprisingly ineffective on Third Down themselves, managing to convert on just four of their twelve opportunities (33.3%). And if that wasn’t bad, they didn’t necessarily escape their trip with a clean bill of health, for All-Pro Tight End Rob Gronkowski (9 REC, 138 YDS, 1 TD) suffered a sprained ankle and is listed as Questionable for Sunday Night’s contest, while a host of Defensive Backs including the likes of Nate Ebner (Hip), Eric Rowe (Groin), and Patrick Chung (Concussion) have been tagged as Questionable as well, leaving Belichick without many healthy bodies in the Secondary. Of course, the Patriots made headlines this week with the acquisition of former Cleveland Browns’ Wideout Josh Gordon (1 REC, 17 YDS, 1 TD), who they traded a Fifth-Round Pick for on Monday. What the mercurial Gordon will actually bring to New England is anyone’s guess, for his breakout 2013 campaign (87 REC, 1,646 YDS, 9 TD) seems like ancient history when weighed against his numerous suspensions for substance abuse. However, if he can clean up his act, this is one helluva opportunity for a second (or is it fifth?) chance, for while he’s clearly never had a Quarterback the caliber of Brady (67.6%, 511 YDS, NY/A, 5 TD, 1 INT, ) throwing him the ball, the reigning MVP sure could use a target of his stature. Remember, reliable Slot Receiver Julian Edelman is still serving a 4-Game Suspension for Performance Enhancing Drugs, and apart from Gronkowski, the remainder of the Receiving Corps leaves a lot to be desired. At 6-3, 225 lbs, Gordon has the rare size and athleticism to become a nightmare for opposing Defensive Backs, though his checkered past and most recently a Hamstring Injury have kept him relegated to the sidelines. And whether he plays or not, there is a good chance that New England may not even need his services, for there is no team better at bouncing back after a loss than these guys, who have gone 19-3 following a defeat since 2012, and haven’t suffered consecutive losses since 2015, when it happened twice.
Meanwhile, while their opponent tonight looks to rebound from defeat, the Lions (0-2, 4th in NFC North) are simply looking for their first victory of this new era under Matt Patricia, the bearded defensive guru that used to ply his trade in New England. Indeed, Patricia served as the Patriots’ Defensive Coordinator from 2012 to 2017, helming a pair of Super Bowl Champion Defenses in that period of time, and overall enjoyed a lengthy tenure in Foxboro that began all the way back in 2004. Lauded for his ability to adapt to his opponent on a weekly basis, it wasn’t long before he started getting looks from teams around the league, ultimately deciding that the time was right to depart the comfortable setting in the Northeast to venture out on his own. So, how has his first stint as a Head Coach gone so far, you ask? Well, while it’s certainly too early to be jumping to any conclusions, things haven’t gotten off to a good start in the Motor City for Patricia and the Lions, who have looked like a bit of a train wreck through the first two games. First and foremost, the Season Opener on Monday Night Football was a nightmare, as Detroit put forth a listless performance in a shocking 48-17 loss at home to the New York Jets, a game that featured a whopping Five Turnovers committed by the hosts. Last weekend’s 30-27 defeat at San Francisco was a marked improvement, even if the game wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate; Patricia’s charges trailed 30-13 early in the Fourth Quarter, before scoring Touchdowns on consecutive Drives, only to turn the football over on downs before they could even reach midfield on their final march. Unfortunately, there were a number of disappointing constants that have plagued this team for years that appeared once more in both outings. The Offense has yet to find any semblance of balance, continuing to rely on Matthew Stafford’s (61.6%, 633 YDS, 6.09 NY/A, 4 TD, 4 INT) arm to get them out of trouble; Detroit ranks Thirtieth in Rushing Offense (68.5 Y/G) and Thirty-First in Rushing Attempts (16.5 A/G) through two weeks, which is something that was finally supposed to change given the attention that Offensive Line has received via Free Agency and the NFL Draft, along with the additions of Tailbacks Kerryon Johnson (13 CAR, 60 YDS) and LaGarrette Blount (12 CAR, 35 YDS) beefing up the Backfield. Perhaps even more troubling has been the play of the Defense, which appears to be ill-suited for the kind of scheme that Patricia would prefer to utilize; Detroit has long fielded one of the lightest Linebacking Corps in the league, and while they’re certainly fleet of foot, they’re not necessarily equipped to battle in a phone booth, with the Defensive Line also swaying far more into that lighter/quicker category than the big, physical behemoths that he’s used to coaching up in New England. So with personnel that doesn’t really fit his scheme, is it any wonder that the Lions have been whipped up front? No team has been hammered by the Running Game more than these guys, who have been trampled for a league-worst 179.5 Rushing Yards (32nd Overall) on a miserable 5.6 Yards per Carry (31st Overall), while few have had to defend the run more frequently than they have either (32.0 A/G, 30th Overall). Also, the more troubling aspect of their dismal start has been rumors of a mutiny in the Lockerroom, which is extremely problematic for a first-time Head Coach looking to make sweeping changes. A number of players didn’t even dress for the Season Opener with nary a mention on the Injury Report, which is yet another obstacle Patricia must face. Perhaps he can ask his former mentor for some pointers, though Belichick is far from the forgiving to his former pupils. Since he was hired back in 2000, Belichick has made it a habit of tormenting his former Assistants, going 11-3 against the likes of Romeo Crennel (Browns, Chiefs), Eric Mangini (Jets, Browns), Josh McDaniels (Broncos), and Bill O’Brien (Texans) on both the Regular Season and the Playoffs.