Tom Brady passed for 349 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead the New England Patriots to a convincing 34-9 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Our takeaways:
- If a charismaticBruce Arians is the favorite for Coach of the Year honors, Bill Belichick is nipping at his heels. One week after deploying an unheard-of six-man offensive line as base personnel in a dominant ground attack, the Patriots went pass-heavy with a two wide receiver, two tight end base package to exploit the middle of the field against the NFL's top-ranked run defense. Over the past two months, the Patriots have won in convincing fashion against teams that were in first place in the AFC North, AFC West, AFC South and NFC North.
- Week 11 sensationJonas Gray went from the penthouse to the outhouse after oversleeping and missing Friday's practice. Passing-down specialist Shane Vereen started, while newly acquiredLeGarrette Blount settled in as the power-back complement. Gray didn't play a single snap. Blount has scored 10 touchdowns in his last five games with the Patriots. The roles in the backfield will continue to vary depending upon the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent.
- Lions coach Jim Caldwell's conservative bent has been a liability against Arians and Belichick the past two weeks. After decades in the NFL, "Riverboat" Ron Riverareached an epiphany last October that settling for field goals is a losing proposition and eschewing fourth-and-short opportunities early means being forced to try fourth-and-long late. Caldwell needs to get that religion.
- The story of Detroit's offense remains the same: The unit doesn't move the chains unless the ball is in Golden Tate's hands. The Patriots used a physical Brandon Browner on Calvin Johnson, with safety help over the top. Joseph Fauria, Corey Fuller and Jeremy Ross all dropped touchdowns on different drives. Rookie tight end Eric Ebron continues to disappoint. The pass protection suffered from the loss of left tackle Riley Reiff. The result was the lowest single-game completion percentage of Matthew Stafford's career. First-year offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is under fire in the Motor City.
- The Lions' defense, ranked No. 1 in the league, went eight quarters without a sack versus the Cardinals and Patriots. Credit New England's offensive line, which has been one of the NFL's better units since rookie Bryan Stork took over at center in October.
- Former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips famously drawled, "Don Shula can take his'n and beat your'n. Or he can take your'n and beat his'n." Belichick is laying waste to the cream of the NFL's crop with major contributions from other team's castoffs such as Blount, Brandon LaFell, Tim Wright, Akeem Ayers, Jonathan Casillas and Patrick Chung. He's putting on a coaching clinic by the week.
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