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Detroit's defense struggles for first time this season

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – They had miscommunications that led to open receivers. Against a Hall of Fame quarterback, that was a crippling blow to the Detroit Lions' chances of beating the New England Patriots.

The Lions had the top-ranked scoring and overall defense entering Sunday’s game. New England and Tom Brady dissected what the Lions have been able to do and exploited Detroit like no team has this season.

Typically, no matter how much Detroit has struggled on offense or in special teams, Lions coach Jim Caldwell has been able to point to his defense as a bright spot. Not Sunday, after 34 points allowed and a second straight game without a sack.

“They were able to move the ball, score touchdowns on us and we got a little settled down there for a while right after the half,” Caldwell said. “But they still were able to handle us pretty well.”

New England essentially abandoned the run until late in the game, rushing only six times in the first half and 20 times overall. They instead trusted their Hall of Fame quarterback, who completed 38 of 53 passes for 349 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

On those touchdowns, the Lions lost tight end New England tight end Tim Wright, who was incredibly wide open on both plays. Communication breakdowns, safety James Ihedigbo said, led to some of the issues.

“They run a fast-paced offense. They schemed us up pretty good,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “We didn’t execute our defense.”

It has been an all-around stingy defense all season, ranked in the top 10 in essentially every major defensive category entering Sunday. And even after they were beaten handily for the first time this season, the Lions’ defense remained among the best in the league in all of those categories – including points allowed (17.3 per game) and run defense (70.73 yards a game and 3.15 yards per play).

“They just executed at a high level,” Ihedigbo said. “You have to give hats off to New England. They came out. They went up-tempo. They did what they did well and just, they executed.”