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Four downs: Ihedigbo says Lions still have great D

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Lions Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo try to stop Patriots Rob Gronkowski late in the second quarter.

First down

James Ihedigbo seemed offended by the question.

The Lions' No. 1-ranked defense had just given up the most points (34) and yards (439) it had allowed all season. In last week's loss to the Cardinals, the Lions gave up touchdowns on the first two drives, and in Week 8, the Lions gave up 21 points in the first half to the Falcons.

So, have teams started to figure out the Lions defense?

"What? What are you talking about?" Ihedigbo, the strong safety, said. "No. 1 defense. What are you talking about 'figured us out?' What does that mean? I don't get it."

The Lions defense didn't register any sacks and struggled to pressure Tom Brady most of the game. Patriots tight ends Tim Wright and Rob Gronkowski combined for 10 catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Receivers Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell had 20 catches for 187 yards.

There were some bright spots as the Lions forced four three-and-outs. Ihedigbo also had an interception.

"We still are a great defense," Ihedigbo said. "One game doesn't change that. We've just got to regroup, correct the mistakes that we made and know what our strengths are on defense."

Second down

One Achilles heel of the Lions' defense this year has been stopping tight ends, and the Patriots exposed that weakness Sunday.

Tim Wright had five catches for 36 yards and two touchdowns on which he was wide open. Rob Gronkowski had five catches for 78 yards, including gains of 24 and 23 on a late field-goal drive in the second quarter.

Linebacker DeAndre Levy said some of the coverage breakdowns were due to miscommunications, partly because of the Patriots up-tempo attack.

"We just have to relax and line up and play ball," Levy said.

Coach Jim Caldwell's explanation was appropriate considering how wide open the tight ends were at times.

"A couple of times in there we just got a little out of whack," Caldwell said. "That's probably the best way to explain it."

Third down

With the Lions offense sputtering seemingly every week, Jim Caldwell has had to take questions about first-year offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's job status as a play-caller.

Each time, Caldwell brushes it off and Sunday was no different.

"No," Caldwell said when asked if there was a possibility he'd make a change at play-caller.

Matthew Stafford finished Sunday's game 18-of-46 for 264 yards with one interception, and the Lions ran for just 91 yards on 25 carries.

For the second game in a row, the Lions failed to score a touchdown, so even if Lombardi is safe, Caldwell indicated other changes could come soon.

"I'm not one of those that will make rash decisions right after a game when everyone's disappointed," he said. "Sometimes you make some huge mistakes that way. … We will take a look at it on the way back on the plane, and by the time we land, we will have some direction and focus on what we want to get done this week."

Fourth down

Coaches have to defend their players, and it's a difficult balance to know when or when not to note their struggles to the media.

Jim Caldwell, though, seemed to go a little too far Sunday when talking about the offense.

"That's your opinion on that," he said when asked about Matthew Stafford being inaccurate. "Everybody wants to focus on the quarterback, and it's not all his issues."

Maybe the problem was too many drops, which he did intimate at one point before taking it back.

"I didn't say 'dropped balls.' I said 'make plays, right?'" he said.

Caldwell also defended himself when asked about his conservative game management, which has been his style for the most part all season.

"Conservative? I wouldn't say that," he said.