The New England Patriots throttled the Detroit Lions 29-0 on Sunday. Here’s a closer look at how each position group fared in that Week 5 matchup:
The Patriots only needed Bailey Zappe to keep the mistakes to a minimum and manage the game effectively in his first NFL start. He accomplished both of those things — and delivered a few impressive individual plays to boot.
The fourth-round rookie played as well as New England could have hoped for, going 17-for-21 for 188 yards and one touchdown. He did throw one interception, but that came on a pass that Nelson Agholor bobbled directly into the arms of a Lions defensive back. Zappe leaned on veteran pass-catchers Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry and thrived off play-action (6 of 7, 88 yards, touchdown). His score was a 24-yard hole-shot strike to Meyers that exploited a weakness in Detroit’s Cover 2.
Head coach Bill Belichick said Zappe “does a good job of seeing the game” and that his explanations for his on-field decisions are “actually good.”
It helped that Zappe was playing against arguably the NFL’s worst defense, and that the Lions lost multiple defensive backs to injury during the game, and that New England’s offensive line kept him largely unbothered. The lone sack he took was wiped out by a defensive penalty, and he was pressured just twice, showing some nice mobility to evade No. 1 overall pick Aiden Hutchinson on one.
Finishing drives was an issue for the Patriots, however, though that was not solely on the QB. The Patriots went 0-for-4 in the red zone, continuing a season-long trend.
Calls for Zappe to take Mac Jones’ job after this one performance are premature, but the Patriots can feel confident in the rookie’s ability to hold down the fort until Jones’ high ankle sprain heals. With Zappe playing well, they shouldn’t feel like they need to rush Jones back before he’s ready.
RUNNING BACK: A
Damien Harris played just six snaps before leaving the game with a hamstring injury. But thanks to Rhamondre Stevenson, the Patriots didn’t need him. Stevenson was phenomenal in this game, setting career highs in carries (25), rushing yards (161) and snap rate (90%) as he rampaged through Detroit’s porous run defense. Pro Football Focus credited him with six forced missed tackles — a seemingly conservative mark — and 111 yards after contact, a large chunk of which came on his 49-yard rumble during the first quarter.
Belichick has raved about Stevenson in multiple forums since the game, saying he “loves” the second-year pro and has “as much confidence as you could possibly have” in his ability to be a productive three-down back. Stevenson also caught two passes for 14 yards and held up well in blitz pickup, though he did let up one pressure. He’s now outsnapped Harris in each of the last four games, and there’s no reason for that to change even if Harris’ injury does not cause him to miss time.
TIGHT END: B
After a quiet opening month, Henry finally broke out with four catches on five targets for 54 yards. All four resulted in first downs, including a 23-yarder on the Patriots’ first possession and a diving 6-yard pickup on third-and-3. He also had a 17-yard catch-and-run on a scramble-drill checkdown from Zappe. Henry did allow one pressure when he got matched up against Hutchinson and wasn’t a mauler in the run game, but this looked more like the player he was for the Patriots last season.
Henry also played all but one snap with fellow tight end Jonnu Smith sidelined with an ankle injury. Matt Sokol was elevated from the practice squad but didn’t see the field until the fourth quarter.
WIDE RECEIVER: B-
Meyers carries the grade here. He came back from a two-game absence to catch seven passes for 111 yards and the third touchdown of his NFL career. Meyers’ stats over his last two appearances: 21 targets, 16 catches, 206 yards, one score. He continues to be the Patriots’ No. 1 receiver and is PFF’s fifth-highest-graded player at his position, trailing only Cooper Kupp, Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown.
The rest of New England’s wideouts were a mixed bag. DeVante Parker didn’t catch a pass but drew two defensive pass interference penalties totaling 47 yards. The Patriots appeared to manage his typically high snap count in the second half. Kendrick Bourne saw his largest workload of the season (34 snaps) but was targeted just once (a third-and-long screen in the third quarter that went nowhere) and was flagged for two pre-snap penalties. Agholor didn’t see the field after his drop-turned-interception, with the Patriots later announcing he had a hamstring injury. Tyquan Thornton had a quiet (two catches, 7 yards) but encouraging debut, playing 25 snaps in his return from a broken collarbone. Lil’Jordan Humphrey was used almost exclusively as a run blocker, helping fill the Smith void.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A
Zappe called this unit (the five starters plus extra tackle Marcus Cannon) the “MVPs” of Sunday’s game. They bullied the Lions up front to clear holes for Stevenson and made sure Zappe hardly was touched. Detroit hit the rookie QB just once — a second-quarter sack that was wiped out by a defensive penalty — and pressured him on only two of his 22 dropbacks. PFF charged those pressures to Henry and Stevenson, so this was a rare clean sheet across the board for New England’s O-line. It’s no coincidence that the Patriots’ two best blocking performances this season have come in their two victories.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-
Still missing longtime starter Lawrence Guy, the Patriots were able to remedy most of the run-game issues that plagued them in losses to Baltimore and Green Bay. Detroit broke off a few 10-plus-yard runs but averaged just 3.7 yards per carry, 2 yards below its NFL-leading season average. D-tackles Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore were at the point of attack on the first of six Patriots fourth-down stops, with Godchaux later saying it was “disrespectful” and “very insulting” for the Lions to go for it on fourth-and-1 in their own territory.
Barmore and Deatrich Wise registered two pressures apiece, and Wise continue to be a borderline ironman, playing 88% of defensive snaps. Only safety Devin McCourty has played more defensive snaps this season than Wise’s 270 (85%).
Matthew Judon has looked like an All-Pro over these first five weeks, and this was his best game yet. He registered seven pressures and sacked Jared Goff twice, including a sack-fumble that Kyle Dugger returned 59 yards for a touchdown. The tackle Judon beat on that play, Penei Sewell, currently is PFF’s 10th-highest-graded player at his position. Judon has six sacks this season, the most ever by a Patriots defender through five games.
Josh Uche added a season-high four pressures, Jahlani Tavai helped create Jack Jones’ interception with tight coverage on star tight end T.J. Hockenson, and Raekwon McMillan stuffed Justin Jackson for a loss on a late fourth-and-1. Mack Wilson, who struggled in the previous two games, flashed his speed and athleticism in a limited role (nine snaps) but was flagged for a questionable third-down roughing-the-passer penalty that Belichick called a “tough call.”
Linebacker play had been a weakness for New England of late, but that unit held up well Sunday. It’ll face another tough challenge this week against Nick Chubb and Cleveland’s powerful rushing attack.
Jack Jones continued to look like a young J.C. Jackson, showing superb ball skills, anticipation and sideline awareness on his red-zone interception. Later, Jones broke up a Goff pass on fourth-and-4 in garbage time. Jonathan Jones also snuffed out a fourth-down try when he dropped Amon-Ra St. Brown for no gain after a quick completion. Myles Bryant broke up a fourth-down pass to St. Brown at the goal line and tackled the Lions’ top receiver — who said he was playing at 85% in his return from an ankle injury — short of the marker on a third-and-3, setting up McMillan’s fourth-down stop. Jalen Mills allowed three catches on four targets for 37 yards, per PFF, as he continued to battle a hamstring injury.
Dugger flashed what McCourty called his “legendary Lenoir-Rhyne return skills” on his scoop-and-score, which gave him the first touchdown of his career. He and Adrian Phillips each had aggressive tackles behind the line, with Phillips’ sticking Detroit in a fourth-and-9. Dugger’s score came one play later. The safeties also locked down Hockenson with help from chipping linebackers and defensive ends, holding him to one catch for 6 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
The Patriots allowed a 47-yard kickoff return and were flagged for unnecessary roughness on a Lions punt, forcing them to start their next drive at their own 13-yard line. Miscues like that have been all too common for New England’s special teams units this season. They can’t drop this grade too low, though, because Nick Folk again was excellent in this game, going 5-for-5 on field goals as the Patriots’ Zappe-led offense repeatedly stalled in or near the red zone.
Folk is 19-for-20 on kicks this season (field goals and extra points) and has converted an NFL-record 63 consecutive field goals from inside 50 yards.
“I can’t say enough about Nick Folk,” Belichick said postgame. “He is so professional, so consistent, so dependable. When you stop and think about how hard that job is over the amount of time we’re talking about, it’s really, really impressive.”