Lions-Patriots Breakdown: Halftime show could trump turkey of a game

BY foxsports • November 24, 2010

Stay in your seats for Kid Rock's halftime show, Lions fans.

It's the safest bet to avoid feeling left out on the Thanksgiving Day entertainment at Ford Field.

The Lions host the traditional holiday game, which they started in 1934, but Kid Rock and the visiting New England Patriots are the stars of the show for a national television audience.

Kid Rock, the Metro Detroit native and entertainment superstar, has released another winner with his new album. "Born Free" hit the market earlier this week, and he's expected to perform songs from it as the star of the halftime show.

Maybe he'll dig deep into his roots for something from his first CD -- "Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast," released in 1990. It doesn't sound as tasty as turkey and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but Lions fans starved for a winner probably can stomach anything by now.

The Patriots will have center stage for 60 minutes as the lead act, with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady orchestrating the show.

Kid Rock gets gold and platinum to document the success of his albums. The Patriots collect silver -- in the form of Lombardi Trophies, which go to the Super Bowl champions. They have three of those in their trophy case, and they're among the elite contenders to collect a fourth with an 8-2 record that ties them with the Jets and Falcons for the league's best.

The Lions are 2-8 and in another downhill race in the Draft Bowl. The winner gets one of the top picks in the draft -- and the right to guarantee an unproven college player somewhere around $40 million. That's a lot of gold, silver and platinum.

Regardless of records and results, the Thanksgiving game is the main course on a great day in downtown Detroit, with the annual parade, Turkey Trot race and football.

Unfortunately for the Lions, losing is a constant in their Lost Decade. They've lost six straight and eight of the last nine since 2001.

Here is this week's Fox Sports Detroit Breakdown:

Site/kickoff: Ford Field, Detroit, 12:30 p.m. (EST).
Records: Lions 2-8, Patriots 8-2.
History: This will be the Patriots' third Thanksgiving game against the Lions. The last time the Patriots played on Thanksgiving Day was Nov. 28, 2002, when they defeated the Lions, 20-12, at Ford Field. In their last game against each other, the Patriots won, 28-21, at home on Dec. 3, 2006.

Patriots' keys: If they play to form -- and they usually do -- the only things that can derail them are turnovers and an emotional letdown after showdown victories at Pittsburgh and home against the Colts the last two weeks.

Neither is likely to happen. Elite teams such as the Patriots focus on winning championships. Big games in the regular season are steps along the road.

Belichick has never been one to dwell on the past. He puts the previous week's game away as though he were filing a game tape in the archives. The last two games, even against two of their biggest rivals, is part of the history.

"I don't think that really means anything," Belichick said in a conference-call interview. "The game against the Lions on Thursday is a whole different matchup."

The Patriots are proof that you can read into statistics what you want. Their offense ranks 16th in rushing and passing, but they're No. 1 with 289 points. And any team will take points over yards.

If they protect Brady and don't commit turnovers -- and they usually do both -- they're hard to beat. In fact, they're hard to beat no matter what.

Lions' keys: Avoid breakdowns and lapses. They had both at the wrong time (is there ever a right time?) in last week's 35-19 loss at Dallas.

Two touchdowns by the Cowboys in less than three  minutes of the third quarter turned a 12-7 Lions lead into a 21-12 Cowboys lead. The Lions never fully recovered.

The Cowboys scored on a weird punt return, when it looked like John Wendling had downed a punt at the Cowboys' 3-yard line, only to have Bryan McCann grab the loose ball and run for a TD -- and step out of bounds on the way.

No replay camera caught it in time for the Lions to challenge. Next came a fumble by Lions fullback Jerome Felton, and a TD pass by the Cowboys.

The Lions have to put the clamps on a group of Patriots receivers and tight ends who know how to get open and catch passes. Brady spreads the ball to wide receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch, and rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

If the Lions get lulled into stopping the short, ball-control passes, Brady will pump and go deep -- and put a quick six on the scoreboard.

Lions quarterback Shaun Hill makes his third straight start and eighth of the season. He has been efficient, and he gets the ball to playmakers -- wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

The biggest breakdowns for the Lions -- not counting penalties -- are on defense. The front four has been strong all year, but tackling is horrible by the back seven -- linebackers and defensive backs -- in whatever combination, depending on pass-rush situations.

In last week's loss to Dallas, rookie safety Amari Spievey put on a one-man clinic on how not to tackle -- ducking his head and reaching feebly with one arm on play after play.

Mirror images (penalties, points, you name it): This is this week's English lesson, and a personal peeve. The Lions and Patriots are mirror images of each other.

Mirror image means "direct opposite," or something that has its parts "reversely arranged" in comparison with another similar thing.

Yes, the Lions and Patriots are professional football franchises.

Yes, they'll be on the field at the same time Thursday.

And yes, they are "mirror images" of each other -- direct opposites and not similar.

The Patriots have arranged their 10 games into eight wins, two losses. The Lions have arranged their 10 games into eight losses, two wins.

The Patriots have 55 penalties. The Lions have 88 penalties.

The Patriots have nine straight winning seasons. The Lions have nine straight losing seasons.

Turnovers: They aren't desserts, but a key factor in wins and losses.

The Patriots have committed only nine turnovers and are fourth in the league in turnover differential at plus nine. The Patriots and the three teams ahead of them are Super Bowl contenders -- Eagles (7-3, plus 13), Falcons ((8-2, plus 10) and Steelers (7-3, plus 10).

The Lions are decent at plus two, but they're too careless with the ball, with 19 giveaways (11 interceptions and eight fumbles). That almost wipes out their 21 takeaways. Only five teams have more.

Penalty parade: Penalties are one issue, but overcoming them is another. The Lions are not able to overcome penalties, but the Patriots can.

The Patriots had 10 penalties accepted in their game at Pittsburgh two weeks ago in a 39-26 win. And the game was not as close as the score indicates.

Great Lakes factor: The Lions should take heart from the Patriots' 34-14 loss at Cleveland on the shores of Lake Erie three weeks ago.

Michigan is the Great Lakes state. Maybe it's the water?

Prediction: No, it's not the water, the turnovers, the penalties, or the history. It's everything combined that gives the Patriots their edge. And they almost always have it, no matter the stakes.

Too many things have to go right for the Lions to win -- a long return, a turnover in Patriots territory and a moribund running game coming to life.

The Lions have too much to overcome.

Patriots 30, Lions 17.

Nov. 24, 2010


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