Second-half mistakes cost Lions in 45-24 loss to Patriots
Detroit -- It's a simple formula for success, really, but a lot more difficult to execute.
When you're a team that is not as good in most areas as your opponent, your only chance to win is to play as close to error-free football as you can.
In the first half, the Detroit Lions did just that and earned themselves a 17-10 halftime lead.
But there's a reason the New England Patriots (9-2) are a perennial playoff team. They generally make fewer mistakes than their opponents and they have a quarterback in Tom Brady who can make plays to win games for them.
Which is why the Patriots scored 35 points in the second half, beating the Lions, 45-24, in format of a sellout crowd of 60,965 in the 71st annual edition of the Thanksgiving Day game.
In the first half, the Lions (2-9) were virtually flawless. They led 17-10, they had 15 first downs to the Patriots' eight, they led in time of possession (16:27 to 13:33), they had more yards (195 to 156), they had better third-down efficiency (57 percent to 40) and they had zero turnovers.
Also, the Lions had committed just one penalty, a six-yard defensive pass interference call on DeAndre Levy.
In the second half, the Lions seemed to revert back to being the Lions and the Patriots reverted back to being the Patriots.
Shaun Hill threw two interceptions to rookie Devin McCourty and the Lions also committed seven penalties for 60 yards.
McCourty returned the first interception 23 yards to the Lions' 26-yard line.
"Calvin (Johnson) kind of got an inside release on the guy, and I was just trying to give him a ball to work with," Hill said. "The safety was cheated to that side, but I was just trying to give him a chance. It was as close to one-on-one as we could get. The corner made a nice play."
The Lions did not fold at that point. They drove down the field and took the lead back on Maurice Morris' one-yard touchdown run.
But then Lions cornerback Alphonso Smith made his fatal error. Smith, who has five interceptions this season, wanted another one so he let receiver Deion Branch get by him in man coverage. Oops. Brady found Branch for a 79-yard touchdown.
"I take full responsibility," Smith said. "I'm a thumb-pointer, I'm never going to point any fingers because the reality of the situation was I pretty much gave the Patriots the whole game, not Shaun, not the offense, not (Kyle) Vanden Bosch, (Ndamukong) Suh and the defense. Me.
"I cost the entire city a celebration today because I'm pretty sure everyone was going to celebrate. It's unfortunate for myself because I know I'm smarter than that and I'm not a selfish guy but today I was selfish."
Dave Rayner, still filling in for Jason Hanson, then missed a 46-yard field goal.
The Lions then started penalty-palooza. Vanden Bosch had a neutral zone infraction on the ensuing drive, which ended with Brady connecting with Branch for a 22-yard score and a 31-24 Patriots lead.
On the Lions' drive, Brandon Pettigrew was called for offensive pass interference and Jeff Backus was called for a face mask personal foul, which was declined.
Corey Williams was called for being offsides on the next two drives, the first of which resulted in a touchdown from Brady to Wes Welker for 16 yards.
On the next Lions' possession, Hill threw his second pick to McCourty, which McCourty returned 50 yards to the Lions' 12-yard line.
"It was a little bit of an overthrow and I started right and once I went back left I thought I was going to score but there wasn't enough field," McCourty said.
No worries, Devin. You give Brady a 12-yard field to work with, chances are he'll manage to get his team into the end zone. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had the one-yard score on that drive and the Patriots had 45 points, which was far more than they needed.
After that play, the Lions were called for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, one on Louis Delmas and one on Suh, plus a personal foul on Levy that was declined.
"I wouldn't call it losing discipline, but we didn't make those plays," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "I haven't looked at the tape. I haven't seen the offensive pass interference call. We got a defensive pass interference in the first half that kept the drive alive.
"I've seen that call go uncalled also. The fact is that when you're a 2-9 football team, you're not going to get those calls. When you're a 9-2 football team, you're going to get those calls. That's the way the NFL is. It's close games. We don't have a reputation of being a team to make those plays. We need to be able to make those plays."
How about that Brady, by the way? Brady was 21-of-27 for 341 yards and four touchdowns. He finished with a 158.3 passer rating, which literally is as good as it gets. It's the second time in Brady's career he finished with a perfect passer rating.
Aside from Brady, the Patriots weren't perfect. They had five penalties of their own for 50 yards. But they did not turn the ball over -- no interceptions, no fumbles. They have enough talent to overcome the penalties they did have, especially since they weren't handing the Lions the ball in favorable field position.
The Lions aren't going anywhere this year, we know that. They need more talent, we know that, too. But if they can at least cut down on the mental mistakes, they can salvage something of the rest of the season.
If not, expect more of the same.
Nov. 25, 2010