DETROIT — It was a familiar theme like last week in Jacksonville as the Pats fell to under .500 for the first time since 2012.
The script was a bad defense early and an offense that lacks the firepower given the weakness at wide receiver to come from behind.
The Lions entered this game motivated, but reeling after starting 0-2. In some ways, the Lions’ season or at least respectability was on the line Sunday night in the Motor City. If the Lions started 0-3, fans might be thinking about the 2019 draft in a division with the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. The Lions can at least feel good about themselves after the pupil Matt Patricia beat his mentor Bill Belichick. Patricia and Belichick hugged after the game. Belichick probably wished he could invite Patricia back to New England to be his defensive coordinator.
The defense created few big plays — other than an interception by rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and a sack with a cool dance by Deatrich Wise.
“It wasn’t a dance. I was just trying to show some enthusiasm. We needed energy at that point in the game,” Wise said.
The Pats let Matthew Stafford do whatever he wanted. If there was one bright light, the red-zone defense stiffened at times — forcing the Lions to kick four field goals. Players in the locker room emphasized there is no magic solution to fixing the defense. Devin McCourty said the work in practice has to translate on the field. The players also think — each player doing his job a little better could lead to tremendous improvement.
“It’s the little things and then little things become big things,” defensive lineman Deatrich Wise said afterwards.
McCourty said afterward that the defense needs to make more plays so they can get off the field.
Asked how the defense can more plays like the Bentley interception in the third quarter, “we just got to make them,” McCourty said. “At times we do it and then the rest of the game we don’t. We are just on the field too long and we are not doing anything well consistently. We keep giving up long drives whether it is a touchdown or three points because we don’t do anything well. It’s not like we are not doing anything during the week. We just gotta play well on Sunday.”
McCourty said he does not feel any extra pressure as the defensive leader to make sure the confidence level of his fellow defensive players remains strong.
“We have very competitive guys that come in here every day,” McCourty said. “I don’t need to pick anybody up. Guys will come in ready to work. The older guys that have been here know how the NFL goes. We just have to go there and do it.”
The third-down defense was weak and the Pats need to find a reliable second corner — neither Eric Rowe (who was inactive against the Lions) or Jason McCourty has proved adequate. It would also help to have a pass rush on third down. The Pats signed Adrian Clayborn in the offseason to rush the passer and he has avoided for the most part touching the quarterback. Clayborn, who is quiet off the field, has been quiet on the field. Clayborn left before anyone in the media could talk to him.
After Week 1, some wrote that the defense had improved after a poor Super Bowl performance even though the Pats gave up 325 yards to a Houston team that lost its left tackle and whose offensive line was a mess. Houston is 0-3 and the Pats defense has been dreadful the past two weeks — giving up over 400 yards in each game. That opening day win looks like a hollow victory at this point. Belichick emphasized team defense all week, which did not exist Sunday night. The pass rush did not help the coverage and the coverage did not help the pass rush.
Belichick was frustrated about questions related to different areas of his defense — particularly a question about the Pats’ third-down defense.
“I’ve said this multiple times, I’ll say it again, we need to do everything better. Play better, coach better, execute better, in all three phases of the game. Whatever area you want to bring up, the answer is all the same. None of it has been good enough,” Belichick said.
Belichick knows the Pats must do a better job against the run too. The Pats gave up 159 yards on the ground, including a 100-yard game from Kerryon Johnson and 48 yards from former Pats workhorse LaGarrette Blount. The Lions emphasized afterwards that the run helped set up the pass.
“It was great. Really our backs played well. Theo (Riddick) in the pass game did a nice job a couple times, Kerryon (Johnson) was really good running the ball. I thought LeGarrette (Blount) was good running the ball. A ton of credit to our guys up front. That’s a defense that does not want you to run the football on them and we did it and I was happy to be a part of it. Those guys deserve it. They’ve been working extremely hard, they’ve been hearing it from you guys for a long time and it’s just nice to put that one behind us and go play some football,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said.
The Pats face the first-place Miami Dolphins (3-0) next Sunday at Gillette Stadium. At 1-2, the Pats are two games behind the Dolphins. Belichick wanted to avoid the panic button after the game.
“I don’t think anyone can clinch a playoff spot today, I don’t think anyone is eliminated today,” Belichick said.
The Pats, though, must improve quickly.