Chandler, Ariz. — Many people think the turning point in the New England Patriots' season was their Week 4 blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. After falling 41-14, the Patriots rattled off seven straight wins, helping them win their sixth straight AFC East title.
Most of the wins during that winning streak were impressive, but safety Devin McCourty said the final victory in the stretch against the Lions helped springboard the Patriots — specifically the secondary — to the position they're in now.
In a 34-9 win in Week 12, New England held Calvin Johnson to four catches for 58 yards. Golden Tate had four catches for 97 yards, but nearly half of his production came on the opening drive.
"We had a run where we were playing some of the best quarterbacks and receiver combinations in the league, whether it be Denver, Indy, Detroit, Green Bay," McCourty said, listing the opponents from Weeks 9 through 13. "We were playing all those teams, and I thought Detroit was a different kind of game plan for us. It wasn't exactly similar to what we had been doing all year, and I thought it was a good time for us because we did it and we moved on.
"We did it exactly how we wanted to, so I think that let everyone know that this group could be versatile to whatever the coaches thought of each week."
Patriots players wouldn't divulge the secrets to shutting down the Lions' premier receivers, but the game plan appeared rather simple. Cornerback Brandon Browner, who's 6-foot-4, covered Johnson with regular safety help, and Darrelle Revis covered Tate. With most of his targets covered, Matthew Stafford finished 18 of 46 for 264 yards and one interception.
"The Lions game, trust me, it was very tough going against Stafford and Calvin and Golden Tate," Revis said. "They've got a great offense… It was a great matchup for us, and we just felt we were the dominant team."
Even though Tate had an excellent season, the Patriots said their main goal was containing Johnson. There aren't many 6-foot-4 guys who play cornerback as well as Browner, but the Patriots showed the best way to limit Johnson is by being physical against him.
"The only way is to fight fire with fire," cornerback Kyle Arrington said of using Browner on Johnson. "You put an avatar on another avatar."