Since 2014, the Patriots are 11-5 in the first four games of the regular season. That’s a good mark for most franchises, but as we know by now the Pats are graded on a curve. Last season the Pats lost their season opener to the Chiefs, and then their fourth game of the season to the Panthers. The same pattern occurred four years ago, when the Pats dropped their opener in Miami and then were blown out on Monday Night Football against the Chiefs.
Bill Belichick has said time and again that he doesn’t really know what he has in his team until mid-October at the earliest, so the month of September very much remains a feeling-out process for the Pats.
That said, losing back-to-back games is never a good sign. Particularly when the second half of that back-to-back is against what could be one of the worst teams in the league.
Here are three things to watch for on Sunday (8:20 p.m., NBC).
Jekyll and Hyde
Is this the best defensive team the Patriots have had since the early 2000s, or is it the joke of a unit that makes the likes of Nick Foles and Blake Bortles look like Dan Marino?
The Pats confused Deshaun Watson in their first game of the season, holding the second-year passer to just 176 yards throwing. In game 2, however, Bortles did whatever he wanted – even with a shaky receiving corps.
Most would agree that the Lions have more offensive weapons on their roster than the Jags have, so the Patriots definitely need to shore things up on D this week if they want to walk out of the Motor City with a victory. Matthew Stafford looked much better last week against the 49ers after a dud of a performance in Week 1 against the Jets. Against San Fran, Stafford connected on 34-of-53 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns. He was not picked off.
Golden Tate was Stafford’s favorite target in that one as he had seven catches for 109 yards. Kenny Golladay also poses problems for opposing defenses.
Jumpin’ in with Josh
You just know it’s going to be one of two extremes with Gordon. He immediately will go off for 140 yards receiving and two touchdowns against the Lions this weekend, or he will never even step foot on the field for the Patriots this season.
We, of course, have seen many veteran receivers come into Foxboro over the years and have difficulty learning the playbook, which Tom Brady calls “graduate level.”
Despite all his off-field troubles, though, Gordon does seem like a smart cat. Maybe he learns enough to help against Detroit.
Last week we saw that the Jaguars’ blueprint of stopping the Patriots offense included taking Rob Gronkowski out of the game, and making Brady dump the ball off in the flat. Brady targeted James White more than any other pass catcher last week – though to be fair, Brady targeted White more than any other pass catcher in the win over Houston as well.
Another top target is obviously needed for the Patriots, and it would help enormously if Gordon is available Sunday night. But as has always been the case with him – there are no guarantees.
Hardly knew ye
One of the big storylines coming out of Week 1 was that Matt Patricia was a bona fide dummy. The Patriots defense looked great against Houston in their first game without Patricia on the sidelines, and Patricia’s Lions were shredded by the Jets at home – allowing 48 points to Sam Darnold and company.
Detroit looked a little better last week against the 49ers, but still allowed 30 points. San Fran back Matt Breida rushed for 138 yards in that one and the week prior the Jets’ Isaiah Crowell ran for 102 years at Ford Field. Maybe Sony Michel has his breakout game for the Patriots on Sunday?
Ex-Patriots coaches going up against Belichick for the first time don’t typically find success. Eric Mangini lost his first game against Belichick, 24-17. Romeo Crennel lost his first game against Belichick, 34-17. Bill O’Brien lost his first game against the Pats, 27-6.
The only one to find success was Josh McDaniels, who as coach of the Broncos beat Belichick and the Pats 20-17 in 2009.