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Dave Rayner booted a 44-yard field goal, giving the Detroit Lions a 17-10 halftime lead, and images of three weeks ago when the Browns stunned the Patriots began to appear. Were the Patriots unable to beat an overachieving team on the road? Does Tom Brady have the grit and determination to pull his team through on the national stage? Just like they proved unequivocally two weeks ago against the Steelers on Sunday Night Football, the Patriots and Brady proved that they can more than handle adversity on Thanksgiving, winning 45-24.
In a bit of a homecoming (he starred at the University of Michigan), Brady shined. He finished 21-for-27 for 341 yards and four touchdown passes. It all adds up to a perfect passer rating of 158.3, a feat he accomplished once before in a 49-28 win over the Miami Dolphins in 2007. He joins Peyton Manning (4), Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner (3), and Craig Morton, Dave Krieg and Ken O’Brien (2) as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to have multiple games with a perfect passer rating.
Brady found Wes Welker for a five-yard touchdown to tie the game at 17 early and third, and then hit Deion Branch for a 79-yard touchdown to tie the game at 24, and the Patriots rolled on with the momentum after that. Early in the fourth, Brady hit Branch on a 22-yard score to give the Patriots the lead for good, and they added seven more on a 16-yard touchdown to Welker to put the game out of reach.
Simply put, Brady is on a roll lately. His four touchdowns give him 23 for the year against just four interceptions, and he hasn’t thrown a pick since he threw 2 in a win over the Ravens in Foxboro on Oct. 17. His other two interceptions came in a Week 2 loss against the Jets, who roll into town in next week’s game.
No one could have predicted that the Patriots would beat the Ravens, Chargers, Steelers and Colts (considered among the elite teams in the NFL) without Randy Moss and with Deion Branch. He has far exceeded his expectations after four quiet seasons in Seattle, and has proved he is well worth the fourth round pick it took to acquire him from the Seahawks.
Branch had a stellar outing on Thursday, grabbing just three balls but doing the most with all of them in racking up 113 yards and two touchdowns.
What about the guy Branch replaced? Randy Mosswas cut by the Vikings and is now in Tennessee, where he has just one catch for 28 yards in two games.
After allowing 17 points in the first half against the Lions, the opportunistic Pats D turned on the heat in the second half, as they allowed only seven more points the rest of the way. Rookie Devin McCourty was one of Lions QB Shaun Hill’s favorite targets, as he caught two interceptions to give him five on the season.
The Patriots also did what they could to make up for their weak pass rush, collecting two sacks (one each from Pierre Woods and Gary Guyton). Hill seemed more rushed in the second half, which is definitely part of the reason he failed to connect on 60% of his passes and finished with a 65.9 QB rating.
These Detroit Lions aren’t your grandfather or father’s Lions. Hell, they aren’t the Lions of last year. Despite the lopsided final score, it appears Jim Scwartz has done his job in changing the culture in Detroit. Now, all they need is a couple of wins to show for it.
Ndamukong Suh is rapidly becoming the best defensive lineman in the NFL, not just among rookies. He finished with another sack, pulling Brady down to the ground with just one arm in the first quarter. His eight sacks lead NFL rookies.
Calvin Johnson, meanwhile, is one of the top five wide receivers in all of football. The four-year pro finished with four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown, and it appears the Lions finally hit on a first-round wide receiver after striking out so much before (Mike Williams, Charles Rogers, and to a lesser extent…Roy Williams).
Now, if they can just get Matthew Stafford to stay healthy. If so, then this is a possible playoff team within the next couple years.
As long as Brady has two dependable running backs in BenJarvus Green-Ellis (59 yards, 2 TDs) and Danny Woodhead (45 total yards), and a receiving corps that will continue to catch the ball (right Brandon Tate?), then he will continue to be the best quarterback in the NFL. If the defense continues to force turnovers, then this team could do some very special things.
First, before we look too far ahead, the Patriots need to be ready for the New York Jets in the game of the year. Assuming New York wins Thursday night against Cincinnati, then both teams will be 9-2 and tied atop the AFC. A win against the Jets would give them a split in the season series, while a loss would almost assure that they would not win the division and would play on the road in the playoffs.