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.

It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

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It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

The Patriots received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 from the Browns in return for Jamie Collins. That's how the trade was described on the league's transaction wire. 

The "condition" of that fourth-rounder? Well, if the Browns received a third-round compensatory pick in 2017, the Patriots would nab that pick instead. 

On Friday, the NFL announced that the Browns had in fact been awarded a third-round compensatory pick, which meant that almost three full weeks after Super Bowl LI, everything was still coming up Patriots.

In actuality, the odds were pretty good all along that the Patriots would get what they got

Cleveland lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack in free agency last offseason when he opted to sign with the Falcons. Because compensatory picks are based on free agents lost and free agents acquired, and because the Browns did not sign any similarly-impactful free agents, there was a good chance Mack's departure would render a third-round comp pick that would be shipped to New England.

Had Mack suffered a significant injury that forced his play to drop off or limited his time on the field, a third-rounder may have been out of the question, but he played well (named a Pro Bowler and a Second Team All-Pro) and stayed healthy -- lucky for the Patriots -- missing just 17 total snaps in the regular season. 

The Browns comp pick that will be sent to New England is No. 103 overall. The Patriots were also awarded a fifth-round comp pick, No. 185 overall. That was a result of the league weighing the departures of Akiem Hicks and Tavon Wilson against the arrival of Shea McClellin.

The Patriots now have nine selections in this year's draft: One first-rounder; one second-rounder; two third-rounders; one fourth-rounder*; two fifth-rounders; two seventh-rounders.

The third-round compensatory pick acquired by the Patriots carries additional value this year in that it is the first year in which compensatory picks can be traded. A near top-100 overall selection may allow the Patriots to move up the draft board or build assets in the middle rounds should they be inclined to deal. And we know they oftentimes are. 

* The Patriots forfeited their highest fourth-round selection in this year's draft as part of their Deflategate punishment. They acquired a fourth-round pick from the Seahawks last year. Because that would have been the higher of their two selections, that's the one they'll lose. They will make their own fourth-round pick at No. 137 overall.

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

When it comes to projecting Rob Gronkowski's health, it's been best to steer clear of absolutes. There have been too many injuries, too many surgeries, to predict exactly how he'll feel months in advance. 

Still, in speaking with ESPN's Cari Champion recently, he said he had "no doubt" he'll be ready for Week 1 of the 2017 regular season. 

"Yes, for sure," he replied when asked if he expected to be good to go. 

Gronkowski also fielded a question about his long-term future in the sit-down. Lately it's been his coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback Tom  Brady who receiver all the life-after-football queries, but Gronkowski, 27, was asked how much longer he'd like to play. 

"I’m not really sure," he said. "I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play. My mindset is to keep on going."

Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve in December after undergoing a procedure on his back -- his third back surgery since 2009. He's had nine reported surgeries -- including procedures on his knee, forearm and ankle -- since his final year at the University of Arizona.