The first-team defense for the Detroit Lions looked like world-beaters for the first two weeks of the preseason. Against the likes of Scott Tolzien and Christian Hackenberg, Detroit’s defense looked vastly improved from a year ago.
Then, Tom Brady happened.
On the Patriots’ first drive of the night, Brady marched New England down the field through a mix of runs and play-action passes. At the end of a seven-play drive that stretched 75 yards, Brady connected with Chris Hogan on a touchdown pass. Jarrad Davis was caught staring in zone coverage over the middle on the touchdown throw from Brady to Hogan, and for the first time this preseason, the rookie looked like one.
Detroit’s first-team offense has been a bit of a mixed bag this preseason in terms of success, and their first drive of Friday’s game couldn’t have started the way they hoped it would have. A short completion from Matthew Stafford to Golden Tate turned into a fumble after Tate turned up field for the sticks. Just like that, Brady and the Patriots had the ball back.
But if you blinked, you would have missed the Patriots score their second touchdown:
Detroit’s second drive of the night stalled after a couple of Ameer Abdullah runs and Kenny Golladay failed to pass the first down marker after securing a grab. At this point, it seemed like Detroit was just completely outmatched, and the ensuing drive would prove as much.
New England got the ball back after a Kasey Redfern punt, and once again, Brady led the Patriots to their third score in as many drives. This time, Mike Gillislee walked the ball in from the one-yard line without so much as being touched. After a Detroit penalty on the extra point attempt was accepted, the Patriots took the opportunity to try out their two-point conversion unit. It worked, and New England secured a 21-0 lead over a hapless Detroit team—a lead that extended to 24 after another fruitless drive by the Lions and a 46-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski.
With 49 seconds left in the first quarter, the Lions finally earned their first new set of downs on a catch and run by Abdullah. The drive would stall out shortly thereafter when a new addition to the Patriots defense, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, broke up a pass intended for Golladay along the sideline.
The Lions’ defense finally ramped up their level of play—started to show some sign of life, really—against New England’s first-team offense and forced Ryan Allen, the Patriots’ punter, to get some work in.
Stafford returned for another drive, and the offense finally started to hit a groove. After picking up a few first downs, No. 9 tried rifling a pass across his body to Marvin Jones Jr., but Golladay got his hands on it first, tipping it up into the air and right into the mitts of Patriots’ cornerback Eric Rowe.
Brady and the Patriots took over from the Lions’ side of the field for the first time of the evening, and that seemed a guarantee for New England to add to their total. Poised to put more points on the scoreboard, Brady started the drive as he had all of the one’s before it, but Glover Quin had other intentions:
Before the end of the half, Stafford led the first-team offense to their first trip to the end zone. The Patriots had some of their backup defenders in for the drive and Stafford made them pay, dropping in a beautifully placed ball over the head of Malcolm Butler to hook up with Marvin Jones Jr. for the team’s first score of the game:
Things could have been worse after such a lifeless start to the game, but the Lions had plenty to look forward to after putting points on the board before the half: They knew they could stop the Patriots from scoring, they knew they could score points themselves, and they wouldn’t have to see Tom Brady again until at least 2018.
Even after the Patriots had decided to tuck in Tom Brady and the rest of their first-string offense, Stafford and the Lions’ first-teamers made their way back out onto the field to start the second half. On their opening drive, Detroit marched 88 yards on just nine plays, with the final snap coming to the benefit of running back Dwayne Washington, a guy who has found himself on the roster bubble during much of training camp:
Some of the Detroit’s young defenders started to make plays with Jimmy Garoppolo under center for the Patriots. Jalen Reeves-Maybin made a tackle for a loss and A’Shawn Robinson chased the Pats quarterback out of bounds to force New England to punt it away for just the second time of the night.
The day was over for Stafford, completing 15 of 22 passes for 190 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in Detroit’s third preseason game. In to takeover was the backup, Jake Rudock, and he would pick up right where Stafford and the first teamers left off.
Stringing together an 11-play drive that saw the Lions’ offense move 62 yards, Rudock connected with Jared Abbrederis for the second time on the drive, this time for an 11-yard pass and catch for a touchdown. An extra point made it a three-point lead for the Patriots, 24-21.
Both teams would trade punts for the rest of the third quarter, and into the fourth quarter, but it would be the second-year quarterback out of Michigan who would help give the Lions secure their first lead of the evening. This time, Dwayne Washington would break the goal line for his second score of the game on a handoff from just one yard out.
Teryl Austin would employ his “bend, but don’t break” defense, and Jamal Agnew would make a key tackle on third-and-5 from inside the red zone to force the Patriots’ field goal unit to take the field. After another Gostkowski field goal, New England trailed by a single point, 27-28.
Brad Kaaya took to the field for a drive, ending Rudock’s night in the process, and Detroit failed to pick up the first down they needed to put the cap on their third preseason victory. New England had the opportunity to win it, and it was up to Garoppolo and the offense to see it through.
Which is exactly what they did: Gostkowski trailed the kick just inside the right goal post, but it all counts the same. The final score from Ford Field: Patriots 30, Lions 28.