The third preseason game is often regarded as the dress rehearsal for the regular season. If that's the case, the New England Patriots offense got undressed in the team's 40-9 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Thursday night was a reminder that, while this offense has just as much potential as any Patriots offense before it, there could be some growing pains—at least early on—that remind us of the reliability for which Tom Brady's bunch has been known.
The offense put up just 330 total yards, with 198 yards coming in the first half. The Lions front four got a good push against the Patriots offensive line, and Brady reacted the way he normally reacts, getting a little skittish under the pressure. He started red-hot but finished with a very human stat line, going 16-of-24 passing (66.7 percent) for 185 yards (7.7 YPA), an interception and a 72.4 passer rating.
This is the same Patriots offense that hung 31 points and 442 total yards of offense on the Philadelphia Eagles, then followed that up with an electric effort in putting up 25 points and 382 yards of offense against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is the same Brady who had completed 18 of 20 pass attempts for 172 yards and two touchdowns in those two games combined.
The game was also a reminder that injuries loom large over this team. Danny Amendola missed the game, and although his injury is not thought to be serious, the Patriots got a preview of what their passing game could look like without him in the lineup.
At right guard, the Patriots are still dealing with a less than ideal situation. With injuries to both Marcus Cannon and Dan Connolly, they moved tackle Will Svitek to right guard as the starter over the first few weeks. It hadn't been a problem in the previous two games, but of course, Svitek was one of many offensive linemen who struggled with defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
That's a tough spot for Svitek to be in, having to play guard after playing tackle his entire career, but it's the situation the Patriots may be forced to roll with if they can't get guys back quickly enough.
Of course, there's also the continued absence of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who the Patriots can expect to be without for at least the first game of the regular season, but they have been without him since the beginning of training camp. They're used to it at this point.
They're not used to turning the ball over four times in one game. In fact, the Patriots turned the ball over just once in their first two preseason games.
Going from a single Tim Tebow interception to a box score with four ugly stains on it? That's not how you win football games any time of the year: preseason, regular season or playoffs.
The good thing about such a game in the preseason is that it can serve as teaching tape until the regular season.
On Zach Sudfeld's fumble, the tight end just didn't put the ball away quickly enough after the catch to avoid the defender getting his helmet on the ball to knock it loose. That's an unfortunate circumstance for Sudfeld, but it's preventable, and as such, it's correctable.
Running back Brandon Bolden fumbled under a similar situation, where he just couldn't get the ball away quickly enough. He certainly had the opportunity to get it secured, but the defender smelled blood, and once again, helmet on ball equals fumble.
The same could be said for running back Shane Vereen's fumble. How does a running back not keep two hands on the ball on 3rd-and-15 when backed up on his 8-yard line? Priority No. 1 in that situation has to be not putting the ball on the ground.
This could not have all happened at a better time for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who now has legitimate gripes for the next two weeks while his team prepares to play its first regular-season game on Sept. 8.
Even on a night that saw so much go wrong for the Patriots, they still had a few things go right—namely, the play of wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. The undrafted rookie from Cincinnati has been making a big impact in practices, and he broke out with eight catches for 116 yards on the night. He has also clearly earned the trust of Brady, pulling in six catches for 93 yards from the franchise quarterback.
As any receiver who's played in New England over the past 12 years will probably tell you, earning Brady's trust is the most important thing.
We have seen the Patriots offense when it's firing on all cylinders, and it doesn't look much different than it has in years past. Now, we've also seen it face some adversity. One characteristic of the previous offense was that it could bounce back from tough games like this.
As if it was written, the next opportunity for retribution will be the first game that really counts.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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