11:57am: HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYBODY! We greet you this morning from a rapidly-filling Ford Field where today, for the 71st time, the Lions play their annual Thanksgiving Day game. Lion’s fans have had little to be thankful for football-wise on the holiday for some time now: Detroit has dropped 6 in a row and 7 of the last 8 T-Day games. New England’s in town today and both teams are wearing throw-back uniforms which I especially like since I believe the old New England jersey (which dates back to when they were the Boston Patriots and called Fenway Park home) are superior in style and appearance to the present-day version. The Lions, not so much; they wear solid blue jerseys with silver helmets unadorned by the snarling Lion which has graced the Detroit headgear for as long as I can remember and I think my first-hand Lions memory dates back to, like, 1964 or so. The Pats wear red jerseys with white trim and their helmets feature that angry-looking Revolutionary War soldier about to hike the football between his legs. Good stuff for the old-time fan. Of which I am one.
But, enough about fashion. This is a battle of an 8-2 team (New England) and a 2-8 team (Detroit). The Patriots list their division standings—they play in the AFC East—on the front page of their Game Notes package. Thus, we can tell you that the Pats are tied for the lead in their division with the New York Jets. The Lions Game Notes today run 89-pages, but nowhere in all those pages are the NFC North standings to be found. We think, indeed we are pretty damn sure, that the Lions are near or at the bottom of those standings but, absent the actual evidence, we cannot say for certain. But I’m pretty sure Brad Childress was fired as Vikings coach on account of him being the coach of a 3-7 football team, which, while foul enough to be sure, is still a better record than Detroit’s.
This is only the 10th time the Patriots and Lions have ever played. Detroit is 4-5 against New England. It’s the 3rd time they’ve played the Pats on Thanksgiving Day: losing 21-26 here in 2002, beating them 34-9 in 2000 at the Pontiac Silverdome. That game, in 2000, was the 3rd straight win for Gary Moeller as Lions coach after he took over for Bobby Ross who had had enough a month earlier and who simply up and quit.
The first time these teams played, in 1971 at Schaefer Stadium, the Patriots were one of the worst teams in football and the Lions beat them easily, 34-7. From the Lions 2010 Media Guide: Steve Owens scored two touchdowns for the Lions, including a 74-yard touchdown catch from Greg Landry. The Lions also scored a defensive touchdown as Mike Lucci returned an interception 25 yards for a score. (I broadcast a high school game earlier this season in which Lucci’s grandson played, for whatever that’s worth.)
Here’s another interesting note, again from the Lions Guide: The fastest touchdown in Lions’ history was scored against the Patriots. Willie Clay (who later joined the Patriots as a free agent) recovered a New England fumble on the opening kickoff and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown only 11 seconds into the game on September 12, 1993. Detroit edged New England 19-16 in overtime. The win gave the Lions their first 2-0 start since 1985, and was clinched on Jason Hanson’s fourth field goal of the game, a 38-yarder. It hardly feels like 17 years ago, does it?
New England is 32-5 (.865) vs. the NFC since 2001, and are 8-1 (.889) all-time against the NFC North. Such is the history which augers against a Lions win here this afternoon. Our homework out of the way, our Thanksgiving dinner looming in our future, we await today’s opening kick-off…
12:39pm: Kickoff and the Lions get a quick first down on a couple of touches by Maurice Morris but the drives quickly stalls and the Patriots start from their own 19. There could have been—perhaps should have been—plenty of excitement here today. Some think, and I’m one of them, that had the Lions not blown that 10-point lead against the Jets with 4 minutes to go the last time we were here, Detroit would have had the momentum they needed to go and on the road and win against a then-winless Buffalo team and against a Dallas team having a bad year and would have been 5-5 entering play today. But they blew that lead against the Jets, lost at Buffalo when quarterback Shaun Hill—needing to complete a pass for a game-tying two-point conversion with seconds to go—instead fired the ball into the stands; and lost at Dallas when, leading in the third quarter, they gave up a fluky 97-yard punt return touchdown to the Cowboys. New England gets 27 yards on their first play of the day, a pass from Tom Brady to Alge Crumpler, but that’s all they get. Ndamukong Suh gets a sack to set a new Lions rookie sack record. It’s the 8th of the year for the 1st-Round draft pick. New England punts.
12:52pm: The Lions punt it right back. It was a 48-yarder by Nick Harris, but Julian Edelman returns it 28 yards—he would have gone all the way but for Harris’ saving tackle—and the Patriots start in Lions territory at the 43.
12:58pm: A moral victory for the Lions, at least. New England gets to the Detroit 2, but on 4th-and-1 they opt for the field goal. Shayne Graham kicks it through from 19 yards out and New England leads with 5:00 left in the first: DETROIT 0, NEW ENGLAND 3.
1:25pm: A non-moral victory for Detroit. They drive 73 yards in 11 plays in 5:00 with QB Hill twice running for first downs: first on an 8-yard scramble and then on a 13 yard bootleg the play immediately before he hit Calvin Johnson with a 19-yard TD pass. What surprised me was Patriots’ Coach Bill Belichick’s failure to seek a review on a 3rd-and-8 catch by Nate Burleson that was ruled a gain of 9 after what was, to say the least, a generous spot . The replay I saw looked like Burleson was well short of the line to make and it should have been 4th down and the Lions should have been three and out, again. But, no review was requested by New England and the Lions maintained possession and just went and matriculated that football right on down the field. On the scoring play, Johnson, falling, caught the ball in the near corner of the end zone at the goal line for his 11th TD reception of the season. (His career-best is 12, set in 2008.) It was Johnson’s 32nd career TD catch. No Lions has ever had more in his first four seasons. The score comes on the last play of the first quarter: DETROIT 7, NEW ENGLAND 3.
1:30pm: The Lions defense put another 3-and-out on the Patriots and then the Lions offense did it again: another scoring drive, another touchdown, and an 11-point Detroit lead. Oh, my. I feel faint. Again the running of Hill was the key. He converted a 4th-and-an-inch from about ten inches from the goal line the play before Morris bulled over for the score. Officially, it goes as a 1-yard TD run. In reality, it covered less than a foot. The drive took 13 plays and a big hunk, 6:24, off the clock. 5:51 to go in the half: DETROIT 14, NEW ENGLAND 3.
1:47pm: The Patriots get a long scoring drive of their own and this one is going to be close at the half because of it. The man with too many names, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, runs it in from 15 out to complete a 10-play, 83-yard New England drive that took another 5:13 off the clock and which cut the Lions lead to 4 with 0:45 left in the half. DETROIT 14, NEW ENGLAND 10.
1:50pm: Even though there is under a minute left in the half, the Lions, who still have all 3 of their timeouts, aren’t sitting on it as they attempt to get into field goal range, at least, before the half is over. And they do. Detroit, with a 20-pass to Nate Burleson with 0:02 left on the clock, drives 41 yard to the New England 26 and Dave Raynor—the former MSU placekicker who’s filling in for the injured Hanson—drills a 44-yard field goal on the last play of the half. The Lions, remarkably, got off 7 plays in the last 0:45 of the half. And so, remarkably, at halftime: DETROIT 17, NEW ENGLAND 10.
2:15pm: Kid Rock performs on the field at the break, but the Big News in the Press Box is this: Halftime Pie! Yea, Thanksgiving!
2:18pm: The Patriots are helpless in the face of the awesome professional football juggernaut that is the Detroit Lions. Detroit outgained New England 195 yards to 156 in the first half and generated 15 first downs to 8 for New England. The Patriots have the ball to begin the second half. They are quickly three-and-out. Helpless, I tell you. Helpless.
2:25pm: Uh, oh. The Lions, the real Lions, reappear out of nowhere. Hill throws an interception to New England’s Devon McCourty and he returns 23 yards to the Lions 26. Now, that’s Lions football. I think we all know how this is going to turn out. It’s the first mistake Hill’s made today, but it’s a beaut. Touchdown, New England. I think it took them 4 plays to get their Points-Off-Turnover. Tom Brady finds Wes Welker with a 5-yard TD pass and we are tied. (They just announced the scoring drive and it was 4 plays, just like I thought. It covered 26 yards and took 2:08). With 10:58 left in the 3rd quarter: DETROIT 17, NEW ENGLAND 17.
2:37pm: Well, how about this? Morris takes a pitch and runs it in from a foot away on 4th-and-1 and the Lions have answered New England by driving it right down the field, again. The big play was a 3rd-down completion to Brandon Pettigrew that picked up 24 yards. The thing was, Pettigrew fumbled the ball at the end of the play but caught it out of mid-air as he was going down. Detroit is getting some breaks today. Hill hit Calvin Johnson 2 plays later for 21 to make it first-and-goal at the 9 before Morris ran it in. Stefan Logan got things going with a 42-yard return of the kick-off following the New England touchdown—enabling the Lions to start the drive with good field position at their own 42. With 6:50 left in the 3rd: DETROIT 24, NEW ENGLAND 17.
2:43pm: It takes New England an entire 1:38 to tie the score. And that’s only because they ran a couple of plays before, on 3rd and long, Brady found Deion Branch wide open (I mean, really, really wide open) with a bomb and Branch, who had to wait for the ball in the vicinity of the Lions 35 and who had time to wait for the ball on account of his wide-openness, faked out Detroit corner Alphonso Smith 3 times (at least) en route to the end zone. 5:12 to go in the 3rd and just like that it’s: DETROIT 24, NEW ENGLAND 24.
2:51pm: Will the 3rd-quarter scoring never end? The answer is, “yes.” Raynor pushes a 46-yard field goal try wide right after Detroit, unstoppable today as we’ve pointed out already, moved smartly to the New England 29. New England has favorable field position off the miss and Brady completes a 26-yarder to Rob Gronkowski on the final play of the 3rd quarter and the Patriots have the ball at the Detroit 30 to start the 4th. After 3: DETROIT 24, NEW ENGLAND 24.
2:58pm: The scoring play: A 22-yard Brady-to-Branch hook-up. Again. This time New England goes 64 yards in 5 plays in 2:15 and for the first time since it was 3-0 in the first quarter, the Patriots lead. 13:45 left, now: DETROIT 24, NEW ENGLAND 31.
3:07pm: The Lions had a drive-sustaining first down catch by Pettigrew wiped out when Pettigrew’s 21-yard grab was wiped out by pass interference called on Pettigrew. I dunno. This one looked a little questionable to me. But, whatever. Detroit punts. 11:07 left. Here’s the thing. It’s only the 3rd penalty on Detroit all day. But, it’s a killer.
3:16pm: It’s been fun, it really has. But, it’s over. Brady’s 3rd TD pass of the afternoon is also the 2nd TD catch of the day by Welker, this one covers 16 yards as New England goes 84 yards in 7 plays and makes it look oh, so, easy. 6:42 is all that is left, now: DETROIT 24, NEW ENGLAND 38.
3:24pm: Hill gets intercepted again, and again by McCourty. He returns this one 50 yards to the Detroit 12 and the Patriots are about to go in again. Green-Ellis finishes the 12-yard, 4 play drive with a 1-yard blast over the left side. It’s his second touchdown of the day, and the 6th by New England. The Lions have given up 28 (unanswered) points in the last 18:36 since leading 24-17 with 6:50 left in the 3rd quarter. With 3:14 left on the clock now: DETROIT 24, NEW ENGLAND 45.
3:33PM: You don’t see this every Sunday (or every Thanksgiving, for that matter): after a couple of personal fouls against Detroit—one on the touchdown and a second on the point-after—New England kicks off from the Detroit 40. Graham promptly boots it right through the uprights. The crowd has left, mostly. So they missed it.
3:37pm: Hill completes his longest pass of the day, 34 yards to Calvin Johnson and the Lions call time-out but I don’t think it’s going to matter what with the fellows being down 3 TOUCHDOWNS at the 2-minute warning and all. It doesn’t. Hill throws incomplete into the end zone on 4th down and the Patriots take over with 1:22 remaining. Detroit has a single timeout left. If they use it, I’ll have to ask, “Why?”
3:46pm: It’s over. Officially, that is. New England scores those 28 unanswered and they win it going away after the Lions led by 11 early in the game and by 7 still late in the third. The Lions fall to 2-9 and they’ve got Chicago (7-3) and Green Bay (7-3, too) coming in here the next couple of weeks. And you can make it 7 straight Thanksgiving losses for Detroit, now. The Final: DETROIT 24, NEW ENGLAND 45.