Five things to watch: Lions vs. Patriots

By Matt Schoch
Special to The Detroit News
Quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are coming off a loss, but have a new weapon in receiver Josh Gordon entering Sunday night's game against the Lions.

The 0-2 Lions are playing a Week 3 home game on Sunday night in front of a national television audience against an aging future Hall of Fame quarterback for the second time in four years.

Under the same circumstances in 2015, the Lions looked respectable but lost 24-12 to Peyton Manning and Denver en route to a 7-9 season. The Broncos went on to win Super Bowl 50.

This time, it's Tom Brady and Bill Belichick coming to Detroit with similar hopes for their season. The Lions need a win soon if there's any hope for meaningful games later this year.

Here are five things to watch in Sunday’s matchup (8:20 p.m., NBC, WJR 760):

1. Check the report: The Lions could be without three of their top handful of players as cornerback Darius Slay (concussion), defensive end Ziggy Ansah (shoulder) and offensive guard T.J. Lang (back) could be sidelined. The inactive announcements could be deflating for Lions fans hoping for an upset.

2. Is Gordon a spark? Familiar with the same path himself, Belichick picked up a player discarded by Cleveland, trading for troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon. While New England has some success on reclamation projects with character concerns, the Patriots also have a complex offensive scheme which is tough to learn in a few days. Last season, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett joined the Pats in a September trade, but caught 12 passes in 15 games.

3. Lions launching pad: The Patriots don’t appear to have a game-breaker at running back with Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel and James White off to slow starts. But that didn’t stop Isaiah Crowell of the Jets from topping 100 yards for the seventh time in 65 career games. Nor did it bottle up Matt Breida of San Francisco, an undrafted free agent from Georgia Southern, who racked up 138 yards. Those guys were sparked by runs of more than 60 yards, which can’t happen again.

4. Flip the flops: Each level of the Lions defense features a highly drafted Bob Quinn selection whose stock has plummeted since their draft days. Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, linebacker Jarrad Davis and cornerback Teez Tabor have been more bust than boom for an ailing defense. In front of a national audience, against Quinn’s former team, would be a great time for those guys to start turning around their young careers.

5. Sunday night surrender? We know what happened the last time the Lions played in front of a national television audience at night, and Sunday night brings even brighter lights than the Week 1 Monday night opener. Since NBC acquired the rights in 2006 to the Sunday night slate and it became the marquee game of the week, the Lions are 0-6, losing to Drew Brees, Alex Smith, Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers twice. Brady, the former Michigan quarterback, has a chance to join an impressive group.


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Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.