NFC North: Thanksgiving 2010 Patriots-Lions

Wrap-up: Patriots 45, Lions 24

November, 25, 2010
A few thoughts on another late collapse by the Lions:

What it means: The Lions dropped to 2-9 on the season, ensuring themselves a 10th consecutive losing season. They have now lost their past seven Thanksgiving Day games and nine of their past 10.

A harsh lesson: Trailing 14-3 in the first half, the Patriots stayed cool, made a few offensive adjustments and roared back to score the final 28 points of the game. The Lions, on the other hand, melted down on defense -- particularly cornerback Alphonso Smith -- and watched quarterback Shaun Hill throw a critical interception in the third quarter.

The goat: A national television audience got an idea why the Denver Broncos gave up on Smith after one season. Smith was the closest defender on three of quarterback Tom Brady's touchdown passes, but it was his tackling that was atrocious and not worthy of a professional football field. Most notably, he was way too high on Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis on a 15-yard touchdown run and got twisted out of his Underoos on a 79-yard catch-and-run by receiver Deion Branch. With all of that said, I'm not a fan of the Lions' decision to bench him in favor of veteran Nate Vasher. I'm all for accountability, but I also think it's obvious the Lions don't know how to respond to adversity. You don't give a young player like Smith a chance to learn if he's standing on the sideline.

More slop: In case you forgot, this game was tied at 24 when the fourth quarter began. After that point the Lions were called for seven penalties, two of which were declined. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew lost track of where he was on the field, stepped out of bounds, and then stepped back in illegally to catch a pass. Meanwhile, receiver Bryant Johnson dropped another touchdown pass. That's pretty much the definition of a 45-minute team.

Congratulations in order: Brady finished with a perfect passer rating of 158.3 after completing 21 of 27 passes for 341 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Early pressure: The Lions battered Brady early in the game. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh notched his eighth sack of the season.

Little Best: Rookie tailback Jahvid Best wasn't a factor because of turf toe. Maurice Morris and Aaron Brown combined for a better-than-expected 91 rushing yards on 22 carries.

What's next: The Lions will host the Chicago Bears on Dec. 5, the first of three late-season home games against NFC North rivals.

The Detroit Lions have lost their past six Thanksgiving Day games and eight of the past nine. It won't be easy to reverse that trend this season when they host the 8-2 New England Patriots. Here are five things to watch in anticipation of this matchup:

1. Check out the big guy. If you're watching from a national perspective, make sure you keep an eye on rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. You'll see what Lions fans have watched all season: A nasty, high-motor play-maker who is every bit deserving of the Pro Bowl votes he's getting. Suh's seven sacks continues to lead all NFL defensive tackles, two ahead of the next-highest total (Tommy Kelly of the Oakland Raiders has five). He's part of a frenetic defensive line that has, for the most part, lived up to preseason expectations.

2. Flinging' it. This game could be entertaining from an aesthetic standpoint. The Lions have attempted 438 passes this season, tied for most in the NFL. Meanwhile, opponents have taken to the air against the Patriots, attempting 395 passes (third most in the NFL) and accumulating the second-highest total of yards against a defense (289.6). Multiple toe injuries to tailback Jahvid Best make it even more likely the Lions will attempt to put on an aerial show.

3. Mutual admiration society. Lions coach Jim Schwartz is a disciple of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who gave Schwartz his first NFL job (as a scout for the Cleveland Browns) in 1993. "I probably owe my entire NFL career to Bill Belichick," Schwartz said this week. Like Belichick, Schwartz studies analytic statistics and isn't afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. "They give you a lot of things to get ready for," Belichick said of Schwartz's team. "You can just see in their game plans and trying to match up against the Lions, whether it's us doing it this week or watching other teams do it from week to week, that it's hard. ... They put [players] in positions that make it tough for you to defend or to block them the way you want to block them."

4. Call this game the Drop Bowl. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Lions (28) and Patriots (25) rank first and second among NFL teams in passes dropped. Patriots receiver Wes Welker has six drops, while Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, tight end Brandon Pettigrew and tailback Jahvid Best have four drops apiece. The Patriots' 8-2 record suggests that drops might not be a singular statistical indicator of wins and losses this season, but it's still something to keep an eye on.

5. Defending CJ. Belichick went out of his way this week to note that the Lions' Johnson is a much different receiver than Randy Moss. But it will be interesting to see if Belichick uses anything close to the same scheme he employed against Moss earlier this month. In a 28-18 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Patriots had safety Brandon Meriweather standing more than 20 yards off the ball for most of the game to discourage Moss from getting downfield. Listening to Belichick talk this week, you would think he has an alternative plan. "He's never covered," Belichick said, while adding: "It looks like Shaquille O'Neal going up for a rebound against two point guards."