After back-to-back losses to the Ravens and Packers, the New England Patriots get back in the win column in a massive way. With their best defensive performance of the young season, they blanked the Detroit Lions and their soon-to-be former No. 1 offense in Football. Before Sunday, they averaged 35 points a game, with two of those tilts coming against the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. Their ground attack was solid for the most part, but Jared Goff once again had no answer for a Belichick family-led defense. Here’s how the Patriots got it done to improve to 2-3.
Paying Homage to the Boogeymen
Although this game was a throwback to the 60s-early 90s with the uniforms and such, the defensive execution was akin to the 2019 Patriots. In fact, this was their first shutout dating back to Week 3 in 2016 against the Houston Texans, but more on that later. Matt Judon once again was a one-man wrecking crew off the edge, picking up sacks No. 5 and 6 on the year, the latter of which led to a scoop and score touchdown by Kyle Dugger. Those were the lone two sacks for the Patriots on Sunday, but that didn’t tell the whole story. The entire front seven brought the heat on Goff for a full 60 minutes.
The secondary was also superb in this outing as well for New England. Their top priority was to stop T.J. Hockenson and Amon-Ra St. Brown, and they proceeded to do that and then some. The two Pro Bowl-caliber pass-catchers combined for five catches for 24 yards. Granted Josh Reynolds was just shy of a 100-yard outing, but 39 of those came on the Lions' final drive of the game. For the second week in a row, Jack Jones got himself an interception, leaping in front of a pass intended for Hockenson in the first quarter.
Ultimately, one big number for this Patriots' defense is six. Not just for the six points Dugger put on the board in the first half, or Judon’s current sack count, but the number of times they were on the field on fourth down. On each of those six plays, the Patriots forced a turnover on downs. Defensive tackle Devon Godchaux summed up Ben Johnson and Dan Campbell’s willingness to go for it “Very Insulting” postgame. Based on their zero percent conversion rate, it showed on the field as well.
Red Zone Concerns
Although it wasn’t much of an issue this week, this Patriots offense has still yet to find a consistent level of success inside the 20-yard line. By design, it appeared that New England was more than ok with going for three, but that isn’t going to cut it all season. Some of that falls on Matt Patricia of course for play calling, but also on the players for general execution.
Today on the Patriots' 10 plays inside the red zone, they had a net gain of five total yards, with six of those plays going for either zero or negative yardage. Creativity in the red zone can win or lose you games nowadays, and it’s clear that Matt Patricia hasn’t done a good job of mixing things up down inside the 20. If there is any fair criticism of him so far, that is certainly it.
Welcome to the Show
Much sooner than expected, second-round wide receiver Tyquan Thornton indeed made his NFL debut on Sunday. There was a stretch where he ended up filling in for DeVante Parker on the outside for a dozen snaps, then had another dozen to his credit. Granted, he was only targeted three times for two catches and seven yards, but Thornton looked good overall. There were a few plays where he cruised by his man to become wide open on would-be chunk plays as well. Something tells me he’s going to get his chances moving forward. Especially with another rough day for Nelson Agholor.
With Damien Harris going down with a hamstring injury, the bulk of the running game went through Rhamondre Stevenson, and he did not disappoint. The second-year back out of Oklahoma put up a career-high 161 yards on the ground, including a 49-yard run in the opening quarter. No touchdowns on the day for No. 38 but through five weeks, he is comfortably one of the best running backs in the league. The only two running backs with more yards to this point (and granted it’s by a ton) are Saquon Barkley and Nick Chubb. Considering both of those guys could break 2000 yards this season, that’s really good for Mondre.
Raichu: The Sequel
Bailey Zappe had significantly more time to prepare for his second NFL game and first start, and the proof was in the pudding. Even with the training wheels still on, Raichu (or Zapdos, or Lt. Surge, some sort of Pokemon electric-type reference quite frankly) did more than enough to put the Patriots in a position to win. He did throw one interception, but by no stretch was it on him. That pass was intended for Nelson Agholor, and it went right off his hands and straight towards DeShon Elliott. Also, worth noting that PFF graded Zappe as having zero turnover-worthy plays yesterday. Kudos to the offensive line who were nails in pass protection. Specifically, Cole Stange who has been money since his so-so outing in Miami.
Assuming Mac Jones is good to go next weekend, Zappe nearly winning the Patriots' two games should cement himself as the No. 2 quarterback for the foreseeable future. To be frank, I’m not sure Brian Hoyer is giving you much better than Zappe should anything come up with Jones again this year. Not to mention that Zappe seems to clearly have the respect of his teammates and coaches already.
“What’s so good about Cleveland?”
Back on the road again for the Patriots, but they have a three-home game three road game split coming up. That begins with a trip to Cleveland to take on the Browns, who are coming off a 30-28 loss to the Chargers. Without a certain Nasty Man, Jacoby Brissett, who was the last Patriots QB when they pitched a shutout, will be under center. So far, he has been solid this season, but his three top weapons, Amari Cooper, David Njoku, and Nick Chubb have all been fantastic.
Defensively the Browns have been good against the pass to this point, but this is another run defense that the Patriots should bulldoze on paper. Two weeks in a row now they have given up 200-plus yards on the ground, including 173 to Austin Ekeler yesterday. The Browns could also be without star cornerback Denzel Ward who left Sunday’s game with a concussion.
Two more notes, firstly, before the beginning of Sunday Night Football, the Browns rank as the worst fourth-quarter defense in the NFL as it relates to points allowed. Just ask the New York Jets, it isn’t over against the Browns until it’s over. Secondly, this could be the beginning of a big run for the Patriots. From now to the end of November, they have the Browns, Jets twice, Colts, Bears, and Vikings in primetime against noted bad night game quarterback Kirk Cousins. If they stay the course, the Patriots could be in good shape for the stretch run. Or in other words from Celtics' star Jaylen Brown, "The energy is about to shift."
Final Score: New England Patriots 29, Detroit Lions 0
Gaffney's Three Stars:
1st Star – Rhamondre Stevenson (25 Carries for 164 Yards, 2 Catches for 14 yards)
2nd Star – Matt Judon (2 Sacks, 1 Forced Fumble, 4 QB Hits)
3rd Star – Bailey “Raichu/Zapdos/Lt. Surge” Zappe (17/21 for 188 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 5 Carries for 5 Yards)