Rapid Reaction: Patriots 45, Lions 24

DETROIT -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 45-24 win over the Lions at Ford Field:

What it means: The Patriots improve to an NFL-best 9-2 by weathering an early storm from the Lions, who came out energized. New England’s toughness and superior talent prevailed in the end.

Patriots show their mental toughness: The Patriots did not open the game as quickly as they hoped, and found themselves down 14-3 midway through the second quarter. They responded with a clutch touchdown drive, and after going into the halftime break down 17-10, took control in the second half. The Patriots are young in certain areas on the roster and the defense struggles at times, but one thing they have going for them is mental toughness. They showed Thursday that they are a tough team to knock out.

Deion Branch and Wes Welker -- small receivers come up big: Receivers Branch and Welker were star performers, both with two touchdown catches. Branch finished with three catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns -- one of which was a career-long, 79-yard catch-and-run bomb. That touchdown was the Patriots’ longest of the season. Meanwhile, Welker totaled eight catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns. At different points of their careers, they were both Tom Brady's No. 1 receiver. Put them on the field together and they are now Brady's 1 and 1A.

Brady takes beating early, hangs in for remarkable day: Brady was pounded in the first quarter and a half, as the Lions’ defensive line controlled the game. But things settled down and Brady got better as the game progressed. He finished 21-of-27 for 341 yards and four touchdowns. Brady’s toughness was evident Thursday.

Devin McCourty and Ndamukong Suh -- impressive rookies: Both teams’ first-round draft picks came up with big plays in the game and proved why they are in the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Patriots cornerback McCourty, who has played every snap but one this season, helped shift momentum with an interception early in the third quarter when the Patriots were on their heels. That set up a quick touchdown for the Patriots, tying the score at 17 and delivering the Patriots’ defense some confidence after it was carved up for much of the first half. McCourty later intercepted another pass, and added a 50-yard return, giving him five picks on the season. Meanwhile, Lions defensive lineman Suh sacked Brady in the first quarter. It was his eighth sack of the season, which is a Lions record since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

Patriots defense does enough: If there is an Achilles heel of this Patriots team, it is the defense and its ability to get off the field on third down. The Patriots entered this game ranked 32nd in the NFL in that category and the struggles showed up in the first half of the game. Turnovers have helped the defense overcome those struggles, and that was the case again Thursday.

What’s next: The Patriots host the 8-2 New York Jets, who are in action Thursday night against the Bengals, on Dec. 6 at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots-Jets game will be on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” and will be one of the most anticipated games in the rivalry between the teams in recent memory.