Josh Katzenstein grades the Lions' performance in Sunday's loss to the Patriots:
Even if the Lions' pass catchers didn't drop seemingly every big play Sunday, Matthew Stafford still would've had an awful day. Stafford finished the game 18-of-46 for 264 yards with one interception; He was just 10-of-26 in the second half. He threw to covered receivers when others were open several times and capped his poor performance by sliding short of the first-down marker on a fourth-down run early in the fourth quarter.
The run game struggled as it has all season as Theo Riddick's 9-yarder was the team's longest run of the day. Joique Bell led the Lions with 19 carries for 48 yards, and Riddick had two carries for 12 yards as well as three catches for 40 yards. Part of the struggles can be tracked to the Lions tipping off run plays when Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate weren't on the field.
Golden Tate appeared to be shot out of a cannon to start the game with two catches for 41 yards on the opening drive. But besides Tate's four catches for 97 yards, the Lions receivers didn't help at all. Calvin Johnson struggled to get open against Brandon Browner and finished with four catches for 58 yards. Corey Fuller let a long touchdown go through his hands, and Jeremy Ross dropped a score, too.
Joseph Fauria dropped a touchdown, Eric Ebron dropped what would've been a gain of 30-plus yards and Brandon Pettigrew had some lapses as a blocker. There were a couple positives from this unit. Ebron was consistently open, but was targeted more while covered and finished with two catches for 23 yards on seven targets. Fauria drew a holding penalty that moved the Lions inside the 5 in the first quarter.
After giving up two sacks in the first half and what would've been a third if not for a penalty on the Patriots' secondary, the offensive line played better in the second half. The line hasn't played well most of the year, and Sunday was no different. It hurt playing without right guard Larry Warford and losing left tackle Riley Reiff, but the next-man-up policy applies to every position.
The Lions didn't have a sack for the second week in a row, but the more surprising part of Sunday's game was the success the Patriots had running the ball. In LeGarrette Blount's last five games in Pittsburgh, he had 28 carries for 53 yards. In his first game since re-joining the Patriots on Thursday, Blount had 12 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns as New England ran for 90 yards on 20 carries. The one bright spot was a drive where Ndamukong Suh almost single-handedly forced a three-and-out.
The Lions have quietly struggled covering tight ends this season, but the Patriots exploited that problem Sunday as Tim Wright caught two touchdowns and Rob Gronkowski had five catches for 78 yards. The linebackers did well to limit Shane Vereen to 48 yards on eight catches.
The safeties deserve blame for some of the lapses in covering tight ends and the cornerbacks struggled to contain Julian Edelman (11 catches for 89 yards) and Brandon LaFell (nine catches for 98 yards). The Lions did have some hard hits in the defensive backfield, but struggled in zone coverage much of the game. The highlight was James Ihedigbo's red zone interception.
Danny Amendola had an 81-yard kickoff return in the second quarter that set up an easy touchdown drive. Amendola would've had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown, too, but an illegal block nullified that. Jeremy Ross didn't have any notable returns. Matt Prater went 3-for-4, but missed a 53-yarder wide left.
Jim Caldwell said he didn't think he called a conservative game, but with how the Patriots offense has been playing, the Lions needed to be a lot more aggressive. Down 14-6, they punted from the New England 39 on 4th-and-3. Down 21-6, they tried a 53-yard field goal. Down 27-6, they kicked a 49-yard field goal, so it was still a three-possession game. Plus, Joe Lombardi's play-calling was brutal, and the defense wasn't ready for the Patriots' fast tempo.