Allen Park — The last time the Detroit Lions played a home game at Ford Field, the jeers were relentless and deserved. On Sunday night, against the New England Patriots, the atmosphere was the polar opposite, jubilant, as the crowd was treated to an unexpected dismantling of the perennial Super Bowl contenders, 26-10.
The contest both marked the first victory for Matt Patricia as the head coach of the Lions and the snapping of the team's 70-game drought without a 100-yard rusher, the longest in the NFL since the merger in 1970.
The Lions’ victory, over the heavily favored Patriots, appropriately capped a strange week in the NFL, which saw the Cleveland Browns earn their first victory in more than 600 days and a pair of surprising upsets earlier in the day, most notably the 27-6 beatdown the Buffalo Bills put on the Minnesota Vikings.
“Well, obviously, the Lions did everything a lot better than we did tonight, so give them credit,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “They played well, coached well. We just didn’t do anything well enough to give ourselves a chance to win. Similar situation last week — get behind early, play from behind. (We) just weren’t able to make it up.”
The Lions took control early, thanks to the defense forcing the Patriots to go three-and-out on their first three possessions, while the offense put points on the board each of their first three drives, taking an early 13-0 lead.
Detroit opened the scoring early with a 38-yard Matt Prater field goal. That kick came after coach Matt Patricia opted not to attempt a fourth-and-inches from just outside the 20.
“That’s a really tough call,” Patricia said. “I know the crowd favorite would have been to go for it, but I think in that point of the game being so early, you need points. You need to make sure you maximize every single drive. So, at that point, if it’s inches or one or two (yards), it doesn’t really matter. You just have to get the points and hope that you’re in a position to play good defense.
“What you don’t want to do is have something bad happen in that situation and then give them momentum,” Patricia said. “A game like this is definitely about momentum. And scoring points gives you momentum and that’s what we needed to do.”
Detroit expanded the early lead to 10 after quarterback Matthew Stafford completed all eight of his throws on the 70-yard march. He capped the series with a short 4-yard touchdown throw to Kenny Golladay, running parallel to the goal line.
Golladay lost the pass going to the ground and it was initially ruled incomplete. But Patricia challenged the official’s call and replay confirmed that Golladay had taken steps after making the grab and just managed to extend the ball across the goal line before it popped free.
Another Prater field goal, this time a chip shot from 25 yards in the second quarter made it 13-0.
The Lions had plenty of success on the ground through two quarters, with rookie Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount combined for 81 yards on 15 carries, setting the stage for Johnson to top the century mark later in the evening.
The Patriots didn’t record their first first down until there was less than four minutes remaining in the second quarter. That drive went 57 yards in 11 plays, ending in a 36-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
Detroit’s third-quarter struggles, which plagued the team in early-season losses to the Jets and 49ers, appeared poised to strike again when Stafford underthrew his intended target, tight end Luke Willson, and was intercepted by Patriots rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley on the opening possession of the second half.
“We’ve got a lot to get better at,” Stafford said. “We can’t turn the ball to start the third. That was a bad play by me, but our guys are resilient and made some plays.”
The Patriots took advantage of the turnover, driving 47 yards on seven plays. Quarterback Tom Brady found running back James White on a 10-yard scoring strike to cut the deficit to three.
But instead of compounding the problems, like the Lions had done the previous two weeks, Stafford led a 10-play, 75-yard counterpunch. On first-and-10 from New England’s 33, the Lions ran play-action and Stafford rolled out of the pocket while receiver Marvin Jones got separation on a deep crossing pattern. Stafford delivered the ball in stride for the long touchdown.
“Not really my number one (option on the play),” Stafford said. “Just came around the corner and he flashed to me. Man, he ran away from a really good player and I’m just glad I put it out there, pretty close to in stride.”
Stafford finished 27-of-36 for 262 yards with the two touchdowns and one interception. Jones and Golden Tate paced the Lions, each with 69 receiving yards, while Golladay chipped in 53 yards on six grabs.
After a Patriots punt, the Lions again worked into the red zone before stalling, settling for a third Prater field goal.
The defense put an exclamation point on its performance when Darius Slay picked off a deep ball from Brady.
“I knew he needed a shot, but I didn’t know what kind of route he (would) run until the end,” Slay said. “I got eyes on the ball, tagged it at the highest point and I made a play.”
Johnson would go over 100 yards on the ensuing possession, gaining 10 yards on a relatively harmless third-and-18 draw. His final stat line, 16 carries for 101 yards, were flashed on the scoreboard shortly after topping the century mark, drawing a massive cheer from the crowd, which recognized the significance of the mark.
“I think we saw a different offense today and we won,” Johnson said. “I think it helped us a lot, opened a lot of our passes, it made life a lot easier for Stafford and our receivers and the O-line did a fantastic job. It takes a lot to get us there, it takes a lot to do that and pass-block and they did an awesome job.”
Detroit added one more field goal in the closing minutes when the Patriots turned it over on downs as the crowd loudly chanted, “Let’s go Lions. Let’s go Lions.” It was in stark contrast to two weeks ago, when the Lions played so poorly that Jets fans were able to congregate near midfield and taunt the hometown team with no recourse.
“There are a lot of things that go on in the game and it goes up and down and the ebbs and flows of it, but just having the constant fans kind of backing all the way through the game tonight, even when things don’t necessarily go the way you want them to go, and knowing that you still have the crowd behind you and they’re still cheering and they’re still making an impact on the opponent, it was a big advantage for us,” Patricia said. “That was great to see tonight. I was glad that we gave them something to cheer about.”