Lions preseason observations: Injuries strike, backups struggle in opener
Detroit — Fans wanting to take in live sports downtown on Thursday night had the unenviable choice of watching a matchup of bad baseball teams at Comerica Park or heading next door for the Lions' preseason opener against the New England Patriots, a game where most of the starters were likely to sit out the festivities.
But even with quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Kerryon Johnson among the players tethered to the sideline, few could have guessed the lowly Tigers, owners of the worst offense in baseball, would easily outscore the Lions.
The defending Super Bowl champions showcased their superior and better-prepared roster depth, rolling into the Ford Field after a trio of joint practices and hammering the Lions, 31-3.
"Obviously a long night for us here," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "Obviously not how we wanted it to go. ...This is the first game we've played, any of us here, in seven months or so and we've got a lot of work to do."
Here are some observations from the contest.
► There were no in-game injury reports provided by the Lions, but the team suffered some rough hits to start the preseason slate. Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse appeared to suffer a broken leg, based on visual evidence, after a Patriots defender fell into him while missing a tackle.
Backup quarterback Tom Savage also went out early when the side of his head smacked hard against the turf while being sacked by Patriots linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley. Savage struggled to get to his feet afterward and was evaluated for a concussion.
Defensive tackles Darius Kilgo and P.J. Johnson also left the game and offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby said he wasn't allowed to talk after the game, suggesting he might be in concussion protocol.
► Savage was injured on his third sack. Yes, it can be argued he wasn't getting rid of the ball quickly enough, but the blocking was also subpar. Kenny Wiggins gave up the first, getting overpowered by hulking defensive tackle Danny Shelton. Crosby was beat around the left edge by linebacker Jamie Collins for the second sack and right tackle Andrew Donnal gave up the third to Bentley.
On the night, the Lions allowed a staggering nine sacks.
► The Lions played just a handful of starters, but that group included the team's entire offensive line. On defense, cornerback Darius Slay surprisingly took a few reps.
► Offensively, the Lions managed to accomplish very little in the opening half. Brandon Powell had a 24-yard catch and run during the opening possession, but the team collectively managed only four more yards through two quarters.
To make matters worse, third-string quarterback David Fales threw an interception directly into the chest of defensive end John Simon, setting the Patriots up for their third score.
► Defensively, the team wasn't much better. Detroit's back seven struggled to stick with New England's young receiving options. First-round pick N'Keal Harry had two catches in the first half for 36 yards, while undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers caught six balls for 69 yards, including a a pair of touchdown passes. He beat linebacker Miles Killebrew for one score and cornerback Mike Ford for the other.
► Rookie cornerback Amani Oruwariye surrendered the game's first touchdown, failing to get his head around on a 14-yard pass from Brian Hoyer to Maurice Harris. Oruwariye also got beat by Meyers for a 26-yard gain inside the final two minutes of the half.
► Things didn't improve for the Lions to start the second half. The offense sputtered away both of its third-quarter possessions, while the Patriots put together an 11-play, 61-yard touchdown drive.
New England worked its way to the goal line when receiver Dontrelle Inman beat Oruwariye on a slant. On the next play, running back Nick Brossette punched it in and a successful two-point conversion pushed the advantage to 28-0.
► The Lions tested out the league's new rule, which allows coaches to challenge pass interference. On an incomplete deep ball to rookie Travis Fulgham, coach Matt Patricia threw the red flag.
After a review, the officials ruled the no-call stood. There was contact, but to be overturned, there has to be visual evidence the receiver was impaired by the defender from making the catch. The ball landed a few yards beyond Fulgham's reach.
► The crowd gave an appreciative cheer for former Michigan standout Chase Winovich when he recorded a sack in the third quarter. The long-haired defensive end blasted around Crosby, who was playing right tackle on the snap.
Winovich added another half sack in the fourth quarter.
► The Lions narrowly avoided getting shut out thanks to a 37-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso with 2:21 remaining.