0-2 Lions take down Patriots in Sunday Night Football

No one would argue that Matthew Stafford is better than Tom Brady.

But on Sunday night, Stafford was able to play a lot longer, and that made a significant difference.

The Lions have put up big fantasy football numbers in the past, but had more of a sustained and stable offense, in beating the Patriots 26-10.

Things are a little more balanced offensively for the Lions (33 runs, 36 pass attempts), and that actually seemed to make their quarterback more effective. There was no better example of that than in the third quarter, when they answered a Patriots touchdown drive with one of their own.

Having run the ball more successfully (more on that in a bit), there were things open downfield for Stafford, and he hit Marvin Jones for a 33-yard touchdown pass to cap a 10-play, 75-yard drive.

Stafford did his part, going 27-of-36 for 262 yards and two touchdowns.

For the night, the Lions had nearly a two-to-one edge in time of possession (39:15-20:45). And while that can be a misleading stat at times, it was a reliable indicator in this game. Brady wasn’t able to do the thing he normally does because he didn’t have a chance.

And now that they have a more well-rounded offense, Stafford may have a better chance himself.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1 The Lions’ search for a running game has been perpetual, since that brief moment of James Stewart competence right after Barry Sanders left.

But they had what appeared to be some pop on the ground Sunday, with a pair of rookies leading the way.

Running back Kerryon Johnson, their second-round pick, had 101 yards on 16 carries, breaking a streak of 70 games without an individual 100-yard rusher. That’s over four seasons without one.

That was with LeGarrette Blount getting 16 carries himself, and Theo Riddick getting snaps on passing downs. But Johnson looks like the kind of back who could become a regular producer there.

And while it wasn’t as obvious, first-rounder Frank Ragnow is part of that process as well. A mauling run-blocker, he helped open some holes up front to make things easier. He might be their center long-term, but has been an upgrade to the line already.

2. The Patriots didn’t activate recently acquired wide receiver Josh Gordon, and they clearly could use an explosive element on offense.

Of course, they knew they’d be adjusting once wide receiver Julian Edelman was suspended the first four games of the season, but it’s unusual to see them struggle to move the ball the way they have.

The law firm of Cordarrelle Patterson, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett isn’t going to take them far, and the lack of talent at the wide receiver position is both notable and hampering Rob Gronkowski‘s ability to make a difference. Teams can double-team Gronkowski with impunity because there isn’t another option on offense to make them regret it.

And this was happening against a Lions team without its best pass-rusher (Ziggy Ansah), which entered the game 31st in the league in scoring defense.

The early returns on first-round running back Sony Michel also haven’t been astounding, though it’s far too early to make a final evaluation on him. That Brady guy is still pretty good at football, so throw dirt on them now at your own risk. But they’re very much a work in progress, which is why they made the low-risk/potentially high-reward Gordon deal.

3. Any coach will tell you that every week is different in the NFL.

But this is two weeks in a row the Patriots have gotten to a dreadfully slow start.

The Jaguars scored touchdowns on their first two drives and scored on four of their first five drives, en route to a 24-3 lead at halftime. That turned into a 31-20 win for Jacksonville. The Lions were up 13-0 at halftime.

There’s something to be said for making halftime adjustments, but you need to be close enough for them to matter.

4. The Patriots were without several starters on defense, but they looked like a team that could use an infusion of speed on that side of the ball as well.

Of course, things will naturally improve when inactive guys Trey Flowers, Eric Rowe and Patrick Chung are back, but the Patriots are more strong than fast, and the Lions were able to exploit that around the edges.

5. The Patriots also started 1-2 in 2012. They finished 12-4 that season, and went to the AFC Championship Game.

So it’s probably too soon to bury this team. Call it a hunch.