Patriots' second-half explosion sinks Lions, 45-24

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Patriots' second-half explosion sinks Lions, 45-24

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

Granted, these are the Lions and not the Colts. But it took only three days for the Patriots to correct the problems that marred last Sunday's win over Indianapolis.

Second-half defensive breakdowns? New England basically shut down an offense that had moved down the field virtually at will in the first half.

Offense unable to move the ball, or control the clock, in the last two quarters? The Patriots put together scoring drives on five -- that's f-i-v-e -- straight possessions as they scored 35 points over a span of about 25 minutes.

And the dreaded "trap" -- which looked so menacing early on, as the fired-up Lions moved out to a 14-3 lead in front of a fired-up sellout crowd at Ford Field and were ahead, 17-10, at halftime -- was sidestepped easily as the Patriots rolled to a 45-24 Thanksgiving Day victory on Thursday that increased their NFL-best record to 9-2.

"Whatever we had, we gave," said defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. "It wasn't pretty, but we handled business."

It was pretty for Tom Brady; he completed 21 of 27 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns -- all in the second half -- for a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3. He spread the ball around to seven receivers, with Wes Welker (8 receptions, 90 yards, 2 touchdowns) serving as his favorite target. He also threw two touchdown passes to Deion Branch, who had 3 catches for 113 yards.

In his last six games, Brady has thrown 13 touchdown passes with no interceptions.

Still, it was the defense that started things in the third quarter, as a 50-yard return after the first of Devin McCourty's two interceptions gave the Patriots -- trailing 17-10 at the time -- possession at the Lions 26.

"I knew Calvin Johnson was headed down the seam," said McCourty. "That let me turn my head and locate the ball."

"That was a game-changer," said Brady, a sentiment seconded by coach Bill Belichick and many of the Patriot players.

It took them four plays to go in and score, as a five-yard pass from Brady to Welker tied the game at 17-17.

Detroit put together its last offensive gasp on the next drive, going 58 yards on nine plays and moving back in front, 24-17, on a one-yard run by Maurice Morris on a fourth-and-goal. But three plays later, Brady and Branch torched second-year cornerback Alphonso Smith for a 79-yard throw-and-run touchdown play that tied it again at 24-24.

The next Lions' drive ended with a missed 46-yard field-goal attempt by Mike Rayner. And from there, it was all Patriots.

"They did some things defensively we weren't prepared for in the first half," said guard Logan Mankins. "But we figured it out in the second half."

That they did . . .

A five-play, 64-yard scoring drive, capped by another Brady-to-Branch TD pass, this one of 22 yards, gave New England a 31-24 lead.

A seven-play, 84-yard scoring drive, capped by another Brady-to-Welker TD pass, this one of 16 yards, gave New England a 38-24 lead.

After another McCourty interception, a four-play, 12-yard drive, capped by a one-yard scoring run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis (his second TD of the game), gave New England a 45-24 lead.

And that's where it ended, marred only by some extracurricular activities from the frustrated Lions that resulted in three unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties.

The Patriots played it safe on their second possession of the game, opting for a chip-shot, 19-yard field goal by Shayne Graham rather than go for it on fourth-and-one from the 2. That kick -- the capper of a short, 41-yard drive set up by Julian Edelman's 30-yard punt return -- made it 3-0 and sent the defense on the field protecting a lead for the first time all afternoon.

But the Lions -- held to 17 yards over their first 8 offensive plays -- started a long stretch of offensive excellence, marching 70 yards in 11 plays over five minutes. A pair of scrambles by quarterback Shaun Hill, one for eight yards on a third-and-six and another for 13 yards on a second-and-nine, set them up on the Pats' 19, and Hill hit Calvin Johnson for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead.

Detroit's defense teed off on Brady on the next possession, hitting him on all three pass attempts and forcing a three-and-out. The Lions took possession on their own 37 and resumed firing, going 67 yards in 13 plays and scoring on a one-yard run by Morris for a 14-3 advantage.

The Pats finally untracked their offense after the ensuing kickoff, cutting the lead to 14-10 with a 10-play, 83-yard drive. Brady hit Aaron Hernandez with an 18-yard pass on third-and-one, then found Welker for 13 more on the next play as New England moved to the Detroit 24. Two plays later, Green-Ellis raced in from 16 yards out with 45 seconds left in the half.

But that was enough time for the Lions, thanks to a 20-yard completion with two seconds left from Hill to Johnson on a Patriots coverage breakdown that put the ball at the New England 26. Dave Rayner kicked a 44-yard field goal on the last play of the half, sending Detroit to the locker room with a 17-10 advantage.

The "trap" that everyone talked off all week seemingly had been set.

And then the Patriots sidestepped it.

"We're not where we need to be," warned Brady. "We still haven't played 60 minutes yet."

This time, however, the minutes they did play came in the second half . . . which made Thursday different than many of the Pats' other victories this year.

Which made it a very happy holiday in New England.

"It's the gravy on the mashed potatoes," joked linebacker Tully Banta-Cain.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL


Tom Brady delivered a video message last week at the funeral of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.

Bill Speros of The Boston Herald, in a column this Memorial Day weekend, wrote about Milliken and Brady's message.   

Milliken ran track at Cheverus High School in Falmouth, Maine, and at UConn, where he graduated in 2001. Milliken lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Erin, and two children.  He other Navy SEALs participated in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011 where he met and posed for pictures with Brady.

Speros wrote that at Milliken’s funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and thanked Milliken’s family for its sacrifice and spoke of how Milliken was considered a “glue guy” by UConn track coach Greg Roy.

Milliken had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Star Medals and was based in Virginia since 2004.  He was killed in a nighttime firefight with Al-Shabaab militants near Barij, about 40 miles from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was 38.

The Pentagon said Milliken was the first American serviceman killed in combat in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle that killed 18 Americans in 1993. 

In a statement to the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: “It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month.

“As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”