Although it's only the preseason, Saturday night's game between the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots had the feel of a heated regular season battle. In front of a sold out Ford Field crowd, the Lions came out extremely pumped up, and the festive crowd got them even more pumped up once the action started. It was evident from the beginning that the Lions were much more geared up for this nationally televised game than the Patriots, and the final score -- 34-10 in the Lions' favor -- reflected that.
The Lions came out of the gates slinging the ball around, and Matthew Stafford picked up where he left off last week. He ended up completing 12-of-14 passes on Saturday night for 200 yards and two touchdowns. What's amazing is his stats could have been even better. One of his incompletions was a dropped pass by Nate Burleson in the end zone on the first drive of the game (the Lions had to settle for a field goal). The drop came after another great toe-drag catch by Burleson that went for 37 yards to keep the chains moving. The other incompletion was because of great coverage on a perfect pass by Stafford.
Burleson more than made up for his drop on the second drive of the game for the Lions. After a New England punt, the Lions came out and picked up 52 yards on a screen pass to Jerome Harrison. Two plays later Stafford found Burleson in the end zone with a bullet of a pass for nine yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots responded with a 16-play, 69-yard drive that resulted in a 33-yard field goal. The Lions couldn't get the Patriots off the field because Tom Brady kept picking up third down conversions on passes to his tight ends. Finally the Lions stuffed the Patriots on third and short to get off the field.
Detroit's next offensive possession did not produce any points. It ended when Stafford was sacked for a loss of eight yards on third down. This was the first time Stafford was hit all preseason, and he quickly bounced back up, which was a welcome sight for all Lions fans.
Brady got hit quite a bit throughout his time on the field by the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams and Cliff Avril, who forced a fumble on a sack on New England's first drive of the game. Brady looked visibly frustrated with how much pressure he was under, and New England went three and out on its next drive.
The Lions quickly turned the ugly New England possession into points with only three plays. Stefan Logan rushed for four yards on first down from midfield, and on the next play Stafford found Johnson for a diving catch and a 30-yard gain. Stafford got drilled, and Johnson had to make an adjustment and come back for the ball as a result. He made the catch anyway, and Stafford again bounced back up and showed no signs of any problems after the hit. His next pass was a 22-yard touchdown right to Tony Scheffler, who picked up a penalty for dancing with his teammates after the score.
After trading punts, Brady finally got some revenge on the Lions defense by finding a wide open Wes Welker for a 44-yard touchdown pass. Aaron Berry and Erik Coleman bit on a play-action fake, leaving Welker wide open for the touchdown.
The Lions started pulling most of their starters by this point in the game (less than five to go in the first half), and Shaun Hill came in and led the offense to a 46-yard field goal. Jason Hanson nailed the kick, and it looked like he was going to be needed again after Ricardo Silva picked off Brady on the ensuing possession. Hanson was needed, but only for an extra point, not a field goal. Hill got the Lions 46 yards down the field and into the end zone in only 26 seconds, and he scored a touchdown on a nine-yard pass to Aaron Brown. The TD put the Lions up 27-10 at halftime and put an exclamation point on a dominating half of football.
In the second half there weren't a ton of noteworthy plays, as most of the starters were gone by the time the third quarter rolled around. New England did send Brady and the first-string offense back out there to start the second half, but they departed after going three and out.
The rest of the third quarter was led by a couple of former Michigan State quarterbacks. Drew Stanton came in for the Lions and put them in field goal range, but Dave Rayner missed a kick from 49 yards out. Stanton's next drive also didn't produce any points, as he was picked off in the end zone thanks to Nate Hughes letting the ball bounce off his facemask and into the air for an easy interception.
Stanton's third drive was the charm for putting points on the board. After another New England punt, Stanton led the Lions 69 yards down the field on 12 plays and capped off the drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Williams on fourth down. On the drive the Lions moved the ball primarily thanks to a 13-yard reception by Tim Toone, an 11-yard reception by Williams and a 22-yard run by Ian Johnson.
Hoyer, a fellow former Spartan quarterback, hoped to replicate Stanton on the Patriots' next drive. He faced fourth down deep in Lions territory and was looking to finally lead New England into the end zone. The Lions defense stood tough, however, forcing the turnover on downs. This kept the score at 34-10, which is what the final ended up being after a couple punts by Detroit and another turnover on downs by the Patriots after Ryan Mallett came into the game at quarterback.
I will admit, it's tough to make a statement in the preseason, but the Lions certainly made the nation take notice that they are the real deal against New England. While the game won't count for anything in another couple of weeks, the Lions shredded New England's defense thanks to Stafford having another outstanding game, and on the other side of the ball Detroit controlled the line of scrimmage. New England didn't seem to know what to do with the Lions defensive line, and the constant pressure seemed to throw Brady's game off. It was a welcome sight after he lit up the Lions on Thanksgiving last year.
The Lions are now 3-0 in this year's preseason and will look to cap off an undefeated preseason next Thursday in Buffalo. Starters aren't expected to play much or at all, as this game will be the final chance for players on the bubble to show they deserve to make the team.
Kickoff for the Bills game is set for 6:30 p.m., and the game will be broadcast live on WXYZ and other Lions affiliates across the state of Michigan.