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News writers Justin Rogers and Bob Wojnowski do their best to remember this is a preseason game, missing the starters, and that it only matters so much. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News

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Detroit — A lot is known about this Lions team, with most starting positions supposedly set. A lot is still unknown, as a new offense is installed.

This we know: Preseason football is a ridiculously wasteful exercise, and the Lions complied by wasting everybody’s time Thursday night.

This was awful, from a competitive standpoint and an injury standpoint. The Lions were blasted by the Patriots 31-3, the final score merely a footnote to the ugliness, as neither Tom Brady nor Matthew Stafford played. The Lions used very few starters for a very short time, and that’s a good thing considering the injuries they incurred. It’s no good if you’re trying to figure out how (and if) Darrell Bevell’s new offense will work.

By halftime, the Lions trailed 20-0, were outgained 262-28 and were booed off the Ford Field turf. The final yardage difference: 459-93. That’s preposterous in any circumstance, and if nothing else, raises alarms about the Lions’ depth. No sense overreacting to one exhibition, but as long as the NFL insists on the charade, it warrants some reaction, and for the Lions, this was a disaster. If you can dig up anything positive, you clearly were over-served.

At least they have the Patriots’ secrecy ways in full operation. Nobody even knew where Matt Patricia would be standing, or sitting, or pacing, during the preseason opener. His left leg still immobilized after surgery, he couldn’t sit on his ATV. Instead of coaching from a booth upstairs, he opted for the Lions sideline, leaning on his leg scooter, safely tucked behind a table laden with Gatorade buckets.

At some point, Patricia had to be tempted to flip the Gatorade table. Not just because New England absolutely shredded the Lions’ backup offensive line, collecting six sacks in the first half, three on Tom Savage on the first two possessions. The last one, a nasty fling to the turf by Ja’Whaun Bentley, sent Savage to the locker room after his head thumped on the ground.

“Obviously a long night for us, not how we wanted it to go,” Patricia said. “We gotta do a better job of going out and competing, and do a better job of executing, coaching, playing, all of it. … It doesn’t really matter if it’s preseason or not. Everybody feels the urgency of that.”

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Patricia puzzled

Patricia didn’t sound angry but more perplexed, perhaps because improved depth was something the Lions were counting on. It was no surprise that Stafford didn’t play; he didn’t play in the preseason opener last year either. The only Lions offensive starters to take the field were the five linemen and tight end Jesse James, and they departed after one series.

By the way, near as I could tell the Patriots played only one starter, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, on either side of the ball. Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer still managed to pick apart the Lions, completing 12 of 14 passes.

Again, I’d be reluctant to subject any valuable player to the nonsense that is preseason. It’s an enduring disgrace the NFL still requires teams to conduct four of these shams. But that’s no excuse for how the Lions could look so numbingly bad.

After Stafford's 10 years in the league, this is a significant reboot in his career, with a heavier emphasis on the running game and a balanced attack. With a new scheme, you wonder if the Lions will be fully ready to run it when they open the season at Arizona. They certainly weren’t ready to run anything at the start of last season, so they don’t get the standard benefit of the doubt in preseason.

"I think guys are more and more comfortable (in the offense),” Stafford said this week. “We’ve still got to execute at a higher level on a more consistent basis, but I’m probably going to say that until the last day I play football.”

Down the drain

Stafford has thrown a few interceptions in practice, although he looked sharper during one of the joint workouts with the Patriots. Next week the Lions will be in Houston for more joint practices, and it’s unclear how many quarterbacks they’ll have. Patricia wouldn’t commit to an expanded preseason role for Stafford, but it sure seems like it would be useful.  

Savage didn’t return after banging his head, and if he’s in concussion protocol, the Lions will be left with third-stringer David Fales, who had the extreme misfortune of finishing it out. Fales was sacked six times, bringing the Patriots’ tidy total to nine for the game. The only apparent offensive line battle for the Lions is at left guard between Kenny Wiggins and Joe Dahl, but backups made no notable impressions.

Depth wasn’t supposed to be an issue at receiver, but veteran Jermaine Kearse went down with a gruesome leg injury in the first quarter, a likely season-ender. The Lions also lost backup defensive tackle Darius Kilgo to injury. The only defensive starters to play were Darius Slay and Tracy Walker, and that was brief, too.

So let’s be brief here, because this isn’t worth any more words. Will the Lions’ offense look better when Stafford is throwing to Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James, and handing the ball to Kerryon Johnson? You assume so, although they’ll be going against first-stringers at some point.

The only thing we can do right now is assume the offense under Bevell will be an upgrade, and assume Stafford can make the necessary adjustments, and assume Johnson and C.J. Anderson will pump up the running game, and assume Hockenson and Amendola will continue to develop chemistry with Stafford, as they’ve shown in practice.

That’s a lot of assuming, with nothing else to glean from a hideous performance. The Lions can flush this one against the Super Bowl champs, if that makes them feel better. But in this league, you only get so many free flushes.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bobwojnowski

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