Patriots

Patriots' second-half explosion sinks Lions, 45-24

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Patriots' second-half explosion sinks Lions, 45-24

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

Granted, these are the Lions and not the Colts. But it took only three days for the Patriots to correct the problems that marred last Sunday's win over Indianapolis.

Second-half defensive breakdowns? New England basically shut down an offense that had moved down the field virtually at will in the first half.

Offense unable to move the ball, or control the clock, in the last two quarters? The Patriots put together scoring drives on five -- that's f-i-v-e -- straight possessions as they scored 35 points over a span of about 25 minutes.

And the dreaded "trap" -- which looked so menacing early on, as the fired-up Lions moved out to a 14-3 lead in front of a fired-up sellout crowd at Ford Field and were ahead, 17-10, at halftime -- was sidestepped easily as the Patriots rolled to a 45-24 Thanksgiving Day victory on Thursday that increased their NFL-best record to 9-2.

"Whatever we had, we gave," said defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. "It wasn't pretty, but we handled business."

It was pretty for Tom Brady; he completed 21 of 27 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns -- all in the second half -- for a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3. He spread the ball around to seven receivers, with Wes Welker (8 receptions, 90 yards, 2 touchdowns) serving as his favorite target. He also threw two touchdown passes to Deion Branch, who had 3 catches for 113 yards.

In his last six games, Brady has thrown 13 touchdown passes with no interceptions.

Still, it was the defense that started things in the third quarter, as a 50-yard return after the first of Devin McCourty's two interceptions gave the Patriots -- trailing 17-10 at the time -- possession at the Lions 26.

"I knew Calvin Johnson was headed down the seam," said McCourty. "That let me turn my head and locate the ball."

"That was a game-changer," said Brady, a sentiment seconded by coach Bill Belichick and many of the Patriot players.

It took them four plays to go in and score, as a five-yard pass from Brady to Welker tied the game at 17-17.

Detroit put together its last offensive gasp on the next drive, going 58 yards on nine plays and moving back in front, 24-17, on a one-yard run by Maurice Morris on a fourth-and-goal. But three plays later, Brady and Branch torched second-year cornerback Alphonso Smith for a 79-yard throw-and-run touchdown play that tied it again at 24-24.

The next Lions' drive ended with a missed 46-yard field-goal attempt by Mike Rayner. And from there, it was all Patriots.

"They did some things defensively we weren't prepared for in the first half," said guard Logan Mankins. "But we figured it out in the second half."

That they did . . .

A five-play, 64-yard scoring drive, capped by another Brady-to-Branch TD pass, this one of 22 yards, gave New England a 31-24 lead.

A seven-play, 84-yard scoring drive, capped by another Brady-to-Welker TD pass, this one of 16 yards, gave New England a 38-24 lead.

After another McCourty interception, a four-play, 12-yard drive, capped by a one-yard scoring run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis (his second TD of the game), gave New England a 45-24 lead.

And that's where it ended, marred only by some extracurricular activities from the frustrated Lions that resulted in three unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties.

The Patriots played it safe on their second possession of the game, opting for a chip-shot, 19-yard field goal by Shayne Graham rather than go for it on fourth-and-one from the 2. That kick -- the capper of a short, 41-yard drive set up by Julian Edelman's 30-yard punt return -- made it 3-0 and sent the defense on the field protecting a lead for the first time all afternoon.

But the Lions -- held to 17 yards over their first 8 offensive plays -- started a long stretch of offensive excellence, marching 70 yards in 11 plays over five minutes. A pair of scrambles by quarterback Shaun Hill, one for eight yards on a third-and-six and another for 13 yards on a second-and-nine, set them up on the Pats' 19, and Hill hit Calvin Johnson for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead.

Detroit's defense teed off on Brady on the next possession, hitting him on all three pass attempts and forcing a three-and-out. The Lions took possession on their own 37 and resumed firing, going 67 yards in 13 plays and scoring on a one-yard run by Morris for a 14-3 advantage.

The Pats finally untracked their offense after the ensuing kickoff, cutting the lead to 14-10 with a 10-play, 83-yard drive. Brady hit Aaron Hernandez with an 18-yard pass on third-and-one, then found Welker for 13 more on the next play as New England moved to the Detroit 24. Two plays later, Green-Ellis raced in from 16 yards out with 45 seconds left in the half.

But that was enough time for the Lions, thanks to a 20-yard completion with two seconds left from Hill to Johnson on a Patriots coverage breakdown that put the ball at the New England 26. Dave Rayner kicked a 44-yard field goal on the last play of the half, sending Detroit to the locker room with a 17-10 advantage.

The "trap" that everyone talked off all week seemingly had been set.

And then the Patriots sidestepped it.

"We're not where we need to be," warned Brady. "We still haven't played 60 minutes yet."

This time, however, the minutes they did play came in the second half . . . which made Thursday different than many of the Pats' other victories this year.

Which made it a very happy holiday in New England.

"It's the gravy on the mashed potatoes," joked linebacker Tully Banta-Cain.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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