DETROIT -- All week long, the New England Patriots talked about playing with more energy and urgency, and then they came out and did none of that in the first half of their 26-10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday night.
It might have been the worst half the Patriots have played in the 19-year tenure of head coach Bill Belichick: Three straight three-and-outs on offense, a defense that looked overmatched at times and a time-of-possession edge for the Lions of 21:26 to 8:34.
When a team doesn’t respond the way it preaches it has to all week, especially coming off a disappointing Week 2 loss in Jacksonville, it’s fair to ask some hard questions of the head coach.
Specifically, is Belichick’s message getting across to the team?
How could the Patriots have started so slowly … again?
The Patriots don’t often lose back-to-back games; they entered Sunday night 45-6 after a regular-season loss since 2003. But after a Week 2 clunker against the Jaguars, and then a slow-starting, disjointed performance against the Lions, they’ve suffered a rare two-game skid.
“We just didn't do anything well enough to give ourselves a chance to win,” Belichick said. “Similar situation last week -- get behind early, played from behind and just weren't able to make it up. So, just going to have to work our way out of it. Obviously, we've got a lot of work to do. There's no shortcut, no easy way. Just got to do a better job.”
Added safety Devin McCourty: “Right now, it feels like two bad weeks of football.”
One of the hallmarks of Belichick’s teams over the years has been that they don’t beat themselves, but the 2018 edition has yet to prove it can live up to that standard. There’s still plenty of time to turn things around, but the 1-2 Patriots should be feeling more urgency to do that with the 3-0 Miami Dolphins coming to town next Sunday.
And it isn’t just the players.
How does a Belichick-coached team get penalized for 12 men on the field on defense?
That’s what happened in the loss to the Lions, and it’s just bad football.
“It’s a mistake,” Belichick snapped when asked how the penalty happened. “Did you think it was planned?”
The Lions, who came in 0-2, devoured the Patriots.
Running back Kerryon Johnson eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark, and when that was shown on the scoreboard at Ford Field in the fourth quarter, the crowd erupted because it was the first time the Lions had a 100-yard rusher in 70 games.
“We just aren't playing Patriot football,” veteran safety Duron Harmon said. “We aren't doing anything that we are coached to do. We aren't playing with good enough techniques at times. The thing is when we do it, we do it well. It's just consistency."
Meanwhile, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who is handcuffed with limited personnel options, seemed intent on sticking with rookie running back Sony Michel despite his struggles. Running plays to the outside, in particular, seemed to be called with too much frequency.
Quarterback Tom Brady’s decision-making was also spotty at times, particularly when he heaved a long ball down the middle to double-covered receiver Phillip Dorsett midway through the fourth quarter that was intercepted. The lack of playmaking options for Brady is obvious, and you could almost feel his frustration with the situation as he flipped his helmet upon making it to the sideline after the pick. The downfield passing game has been almost nonexistent through three games.
“We're not scoring enough points. We're not executing well enough on a down-by-down basis, certainly at a high level that we should have our expectations set at,” Brady said. “There's been a lot of talk about it in practice, it's just not getting done on the field. And we got to get it corrected soon.”
But are these things correctable?
“We'll see. I'm not going to make predictions,” Brady responded. “It's about hard work, it's about commitment, it's about discipline, it's about doing the right thing. Obviously, we're not doing a great job with that, so we all gotta get back to work. You know, look at ourselves and figure out what we need to do to help the team win."
With the Patriots already short-handed on offense, it didn’t help that running back Rex Burkhead left the game in the third quarter with a neck injury and didn’t return.
New England is a team that has persevered over the years when it has lost key players, taking pride in its “next man up” mantra.
It’s time for the 2018 Patriots, starting with the coach calling the shots -- Belichick -- to show they’re capable of doing that.