NFL Preview - Detroit (7-3) at New England (8-2)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Detroit Lions will finish up one of the toughest road stretches of this or any other season when they pay a visit to the red- hot New England Patriots on Sunday.
The Lions came up short against the now 9-1 Arizona Cardinals in the desert last weekend and things will hardly slow down seven days later as the 8-2 Pats await having won 14 straight at home and six consecutive overall, including a 42-20 drubbing of Indianapolis during Week 11 in which running back Jonas Gray rushed for 199 yards and four touchdowns in just his fourth career NFL game.
Billed as the matchup of Tom Brady versus Andrew Luck, Gray, a former Notre Dame star, returned to Indiana and stole the spotlight.
Gray, who had 131 yards rushing in his first three games filling in for the injured Stevan Ridley, carried the ball 38 times against the Colts, averaging 5.2 yards a tote.
Brady was 19-of-30 for 257 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, while Rob Gronkowski caught four passes for 71 yards and a score for the Patriots (8-2), who have won the six straight since a pedestrian 2-2 start.
"It's a good win," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "I'm really proud of our offensive line. Good solid team effort."
Conversely Detroit fell in he desert, 14-6, when Cards backup QB Drew Stanton threw touchdown passes to Michael Floyd on the first two drives of the game and Arizona held on from there.
Stanton stepped in again for Carson Palmer, who was lost for the season after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee. His touchdown throws of 42 and 12 yards to Floyd in the first nine minutes of the game stood up.
Matt Prater kicked two field goals for the Lions, who had a four-game winning streak snapped -- their longest since a 5-0 start to the 2011 season.
Detroit's Matthew Stafford threw for just 183 yards with an interception, but set an NFL passing record during the game. He became the quickest quarterback to reach 20,000 yards, doing it in 71 games -- three fewer than Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino needed for the Miami Dolphins in the 1980s.
Calvin Johnson had five catches for 59 yards in his second game back from an ankle injury.
"We didn't help ourselves out. We had too many penalties and mental errors," Stafford said. "You do that against a good defense and you won't be too successful."
The Patriots have won three straight over the Lions and lead the all-time series by a 6-4 margin. The two teams haven't played watch other since November of 2010 when Brady threw for 34 yards and four TDs in a 45-24 win. They haven't met in Foxborough since 2006, a 28-21 New England triumph.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This shapes up as strength against strength with the Pats averaging 32.3 points per game, good for second in the NFL, matching up with a Detroit defense that is allowing just 15.6 points per game, the fewest in the league.
The Lions also own the NFL's best defense in total yards allowed (290.3 per game) and rushing yards allowed (68.8 per game). The Pats, meanwhile, are seventh in total offense (380.6 ypg).
New England, which leads the AFC East, is the most balanced team in football and has beaten the other three AFC division leaders by a combined 131-58 margin, including consecutive 22-points wins over Denver (AFC West) and Indy (AFC South).
Against the Broncos it was the aerial attack with Brady throwing for 333 yards and four scores while it was the running game and Gray that pounded the Colts into submission in Indy.
"We always try to stay balanced," said Brady. "You never go in saying we're going to run it this much or throw it this much. You try to get the runs on your terms, and if they're going to load up and stop it, you've got to throw it, but if they're not going to respect the running game, you've got to keep giving it to him."
Gray ended up just 11 yards shy of the franchise rushing record against the Colts and surpassed his career mark for rushing attempts coming in (32). Despite the heavy workload, though, the back is ready to go.
"Surprisingly, I feel great. I actually just did some extra conditioning," Gray said. "I'm feeling good, ready for a big week against Detroit."
He will have some added support though as the Pats brought back running back LeGarrette Blount on Thursday, just two days after he was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers decided to part ways with Blount after he reportedly left the field prior to the conclusion of Monday's game against Tennessee. The Patriots originally acquired Blount on April 27, 2013 in a trade with Tampa Bay and last season he rushed for 772 yards with seven touchdowns in 16 games, seven of which were starts. In the postseason win against Indianapolis on Jan. 11, 2014, Blount ran for 166 yards and four rushing touchdowns.
The Lions seem to understand what they will be facing.
"We're going against a very good football team, but we're not going in this with a mindset like, 'Oh, they're unbeatable, they do everything so amazing,'" Detroit safety James Ihedigbo said. "We are the No. 1 defense. We've kind of earned that. Respect is not given in this league. It's earned."
Offense has been the biggest problem for Detroit, a stark contrast from the usual makeup of the Lions.
Detroit has been averaging just 17 points a game after piling up 35 against the New York Giants on opening day. The lack of a consistent running game has been the main culprit with the Lions mustering only 80.2 ypg on the ground, tied for 30th in the NFL with Arizona. Only winless Oakland is worse.
"They've shown in spurts they have grit, they're tough, they come back, they fight you," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said of his team. "Even in (the Arizona) ball game, the effort was unreal. When you get that kind of effort, you just have to work on execution and some things. We'll get better. I do think this team has the fortitude to be real resilient under disappointment."
The paltry run game could get a lift from the potential return of Reggie Bush, who sat out against the Cardinals with an ankle injury but is expected to play this week.
New England's 14-game home run is the longest in football and the Pats have been beating foes by nearly two touchdowns a game (13.6 to be exact) over that span.
The Lions are better than the average opponent so figure on them keeping things closer than that but expecting a win is probably a little too much to ask.
"The thing about is that they have great tradition, a great tradition of winning," Caldwell said when asked about playing in Foxborough. "Certainly their ownership is one that is well respected, the coaching staff obviously has been exceptional through the years, so they have a lot of things that are going for them.
"But the fact of the matter is, they are a team that has won, probably, more Super Bowls in the modern era than anyone else. So, they present a great challenge, but our guys I think are up for that challenge. I think they look at every opportunity that they have as a great chance to go in and show what they can do and I think it'll be interesting."
Sports Network predicted outcome: Patriots 27, Lions 20
11/20 14:51:21 ET