If one thing has become more abundantly transparent than commissioner Roger Goodell’s discipline bingo through the first dozen weeks of the 2014 NFL campaign, it is indeed this:
Nobody can stop the New England Patriots.
Not Green Bay.
Not San Diego or the rest of the AFC East sludge that remains on the 2014 regular season schedule.
If there were any lingering doubt of the Patriots’ exhaustive prowess, any sliver of question that they might not be the NFL’s most complete and feared opponent, it was put to rest on Sunday during an unequivocal smothering of the Detroit Lions.
The Lions brought the league’s statistically-ranked top defense to Foxborough, and the Patriots turned it into an also-ran, a mirage of the foreboding pressure Detroit had shown this season before facing the stiffest test on their schedule.
That’s seven wins in a row for your Patriots, three in a row against NFL elite squads Denver, Indianapolis, and now Detroit.
On Sunday, the Patriots’ 34-9 victory was a flag-flying clinic over the shell-shocked Lions, who, as a group, took on the blank stare, what-the-hell-just-happened look of head coach Jim Caldwell. The Lions could barely stop the Patriots’ first-half offensive attack, and defensively, where logic figured the stalwart unit might show competence - even against Tom Brady and high-flying New England - the Lions delivered their worst performance of the season thus far.
“We worked our tails off,” Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said following the win over the Lions, “and we’re going to continue to work our tails off from here on out because that’s what we need.”
Detroit came in averaging only 15.6 points allowed per game, best in the NFL. It hadn’t allowed more than 24 points to any opponent, something Carolina accomplished in a Week 2 win over the Lions.
New England had scored 24 points on Sunday by halftime.
Still, despite its flaws, Detroit is unarguably one of the NFL’s top defenses, and one that rebounded in the second half to hold the Patriots to only 10 points. Old pal James Ihedigbo picked off Brady, Ndamukong Suh gave all of New England a heart attack when he waltzed to the New England quarterback untouched, and the Lions could have vaulted themselves back into the game by late in the third quarter, thanks to the efforts of its defense making corrections. New England’s defense was better, but, if even for a short period of time, the Lions proved why they’re among the best in the league at shutting down attacks.
So If that unit can’t stop the Patriots, exactly who will?
You know the answer, even with the Green Bay Packers looming in a week.
The Broncos, Colts, and Lions have a combined 21 wins among them this season and the Patriots just blew through the trio of teams like the Big, Bad Wolf and a house of leaves. New England’s much-ballyhooed tough stretch of the season has been nothing more than a convincing run, week by week, an aggregate score of 119-50 that will culminate in next weekend’s showdown against the 8-3 Packers, who leapfrogged over the Lions into first place in the NFC North with a 24-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
“It’s been a fun couple of games,” Brady said after throwing for 349 yards and two touchdown passes to tight end Tim Wright, one of five receivers the Patriots’ quarterback hooked up with on the afternoon. Ninety-eight yards went to Brandon LaFell, 89 more to Julian Edelman, and 78 to Rob Gronkowski, while old and new friend LeGarrette Blount proved that quitters always win with a pair of touchdown runs of his own while Bill Belichick forced Jonas Gray, late to practice last Friday, to stew on the sidelines.
“It’s great when we can spread it around to different guys and it makes us tough to defend,” Brady said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who are contributing, so it’s a lot of fun.”
It was a surgical attack that left the Lions cowering with their tails between their legs, a defense exposed with only three days prep work looming before hosting the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving Day.
Speaking of gorging oneself, Sunday did indeed turn out to be a delicious appetizer before next weekend’s feast in Green Bay, a game certainly to be touted as a Super Bowl preview a handful of times in advance of Sunday afternoon’s 4:25 p.m. kickoff at Lambeau Field. Though Brady and fellow quarterback Aaron Rodgers are the top two candidates for NFL MVP, the Packers’ defense has shown only periodic flashes that prove that it can handle the Patriots’ offensive attack, while New England’s defense has quietly emerged as one of the scariest in the league.
On Sunday, New England held the Lions to three field goals, thanks in part to what arguably might have been Darrelle Revis’ best game in a Patriots uniform.
Also, the Lions kind of stink offensively.
So maybe that’s your “yeah…but” to emerge from this game. The Lions haven’t scored a touchdown since Matt Stafford’s last-second score against the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago. Was it really as complete a defensive effort for New England as one might initially think? Can the Patriots go to Green Bay and win in a shootout at Lambeau, or is New England’s defense really ready for its (next) most imposing task of the season?
Denver. Pass, A-plus.
Indy. Pass, A-plus.
Detroit. Pass, A-plus.
Yeah. It’s ready.
“We don’t want to relax one second,” Wilfork said. “We want to continue to get better, individually and as a team. When we put on this Patriots jersey, it’s for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to win ballgames.”
Nobody -- nobody has done it in more convincing fashion over the last two months than the New England Patriots, They’ve been so good that even their staunchest supporters, even their most rabid critics would render them a mulligan against the Packers. There are plenty of acceptable reasons to imagine why the Patriots could very well come away with loss No. 3 next Sunday.
It’s just that there are just so many more compelling ones that argue the Packers won’t be able to hang with this team.
Yes, we’ve certainly been in this position before in New England, but it’s impossible to project the flukes and mental mistakes that have detailed the Patriots before in their chase for Lombardi. With each passing week, the Patriots prove more and more that they are a championship-caliber unit, one with rightful designs on Glendale, Ariz.
That’s the end game for this team, and it feels so much more real than it has in a long time, leaving a 2-2, haphazard September filled with criticism far, far behind.
“Everything possibly negative people could say, they were saying about us,” Wilfork said. “Our number one job was to block out all the noise, ignore it, and just concentrate on what we need to do to get better and that was our number one goal and that’s still out number one goal.
“Now you look back 11 weeks later and we’re one of the best teams in the league, so the same people that were saying we were the most terrible team in the league now are patting us on the back. We don’t have room for them. We don’t have room for bandwagoners, guys that just off the bandwagon when things get tough. This team that we have now is a tough football team, mentally, physically. Bill asks a lot of us and we give a lot. We knew what it was going to take to turn it around and we did it.”
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