Sure, it was just the Lions, but this win brought out the best in the Patriots


Bill Belichick was at his best with a third-string quarterback and facing the NFL’s most scoring offense.

It was all smiles from Bailey Zappe (left) and David Andrews after Sunday’s victory. It was all smiles from Bailey Zappe (left) and David Andrews after Sunday’s victory. JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF

Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to highlights, stats and storylines from the Patriots’ last game. . .

Bill Belichick has often been at his best in his 23 years with the Patriots when something — usually related to the quarterback situation — has convinced us trouble is ahead.

It happened in 2008, when Tom Brady was lost for the season in the first quarter of Game 1, only for the untested Matt Cassel to come in and play well enough for the Patriots to win 11 games.

It happened early in 16, when Brady was suspended the first four games for Deflategate nonsense and the Patriots went 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at quarterback.

And don’t confuse that with any some kind of a comparison to what’s happening now, because Brady’s emergence in 2001 from Drew Bledsoe’s Week 2 injury is one of the most extraordinary NFL stories ever told… but yes, Belichick has it do so too.

And he did it again on Sunday. With third-string rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe making his first career start, against a Lions team averaging 35 points per game, the Patriots 1-3 were in desperate need of a win.

They got more than that. They got an admirably steady performance from Zappe, who was 17 of 21 for 188 yards, a fierce effort from their shutout defense and a reminder that Belichick is always on top of his game, especially against slow quarterbacks like Jared Goff. and emotional, tactically challenging coaches like Dan Campbell.

Yeah, say it’s only Lions if you want. But it was terribly fun.

A few more thoughts, after immediate consideration. . .

With Damien Harris sidelined in the second quarter, Rhamondre Stevenson took advantage, running for a career-high 161 yards.
With Damien Harris sidelined in the second quarter, Rhamondre Stevenson took advantage, running for a career-high 161 yards. MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF

Three players who were worth watching

Suggested players in the unconventional preview: Trent Brown, Jonathan Jones, Aidan Hutchinson

Raymond Stevenson: Beyond Derrick Henry and last year’s version of Jonathan Taylor, the classic running back is an endangered species in the NFL. Since emerging midway through last season as the Patriots’ most electrifying offensive player, it’s easy to wonder what Stevenson’s numbers might look like with a heavy, old-fashioned workload. We found out on Sunday when his talented job-sharing partner, Damien Harris, suffered a hamstring injury in the second quarter, and it went pretty much as we suspected: Stevenson was a force of nature. He shot, turned, cut and stomped for a dazzling 161 yards on 25 carries, two career highs. Stevenson’s most spectacular run was a 49-yard run in the first quarter that he could have gone all the way had Nelson Agholor been able to cut the path of Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone.

Matthew Judon: He single-handedly affected the score differential by at least 7 points, and probably 10. In the first quarter, his third-and-7 sack from Goff for a 9-yard loss took the Lions out of basket reach. He made an even better game in the second quarter, beating the Lions’ excellent sophomore left tackle Penei Sewell on fourth-and-9th – one of the Lions’ astonishing six failures on fourth down without a conversion – by releasing the ball, then cheering along with the rest of New England as Kyle Dugger returned the fumble 59 yards for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead for the Patriots. Judon, who has at least one sack in each of the Patriots’ first five games, wears No. 9. But with the Patriots wearing their spectacular comebacks on Sunday, it would have been appropriate for him to wear No. 56 in retirement, because that it was a vintage performance by André Tippett.

Jacobi Meyers: I’ve always been lukewarm on Meyers, a smart and capable possession receiver but who probably saw the ball too often given he’s not particularly good at catching targets and wasn’t a threat to yardage. after capture. But Sunday? It was impressive. Returning from a two-week hiatus while recovering from a knee injury, Meyers stepped in as Mr. Reliable for Zappe, catching seven passes on eight targets for 111 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown, which put the Patriots up 26-0, was Zappe’s longest passing game of the day.

In his first game with Bailey Zappe, Jakobi Meyers caught the rookie's second career touchdown pass.
In his first game with Bailey Zappe, Jakobi Meyers caught the rookie’s second touchdown pass. JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF

Game grievance

I don’t know how many times Nelson Agholor has to give the ball away before the Patriots coaches realize he can’t be trusted in midfield. Agholor was responsible for Zappe’s interception, sending the ball into the hands of Lions safety DeShon Elliott midway through the second quarter. This is the third time this season that Agholor has given the ball away on a play in the middle. Against the Ravens two weeks ago, safety Kyle Hamilton fended off Agholor’s ball after a 28-yard gain, Marcus Peters recovering. That blunder happened during a streak in which the Patriots turned him over four times on five possessions. Agholor also fumbled to essentially end the Patriots’ chances in the Week 1 loss to the Dolphins. The Patriots have committed 10 turnovers this season. Agholor is directly responsible for three of them. Not acceptable.

Three scribbled notes in the margins

It’s easy to forget now, but the Lions moved up the field with relative ease on their second possession, down 3-0. Josh Reynolds had a catch for 22 yards, Craig Reynolds ran for 19 yards down the middle, and Justin Jackson also ran for an 11-yard run on the series as the Lions headed for the Patriots 18-yard line. But rookie cornerback Jack Jones made a spectacular play for the second week in a row, jumping to pull out a Goff throw intended for TJ Hockenson, then tapping his toes on the 3-yard line to stay in bounds. A week after netting a 6 pick over Aaron Rodgers, the rookie fourth-round pick has once again shown some extremely impressive skills. . . The Patriots tormented Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah, who, among other egregious things, committed 22- and 25-yard pass interference penalties against DeVante Parker. Okudah was the third pick in the draft two years ago, trailing Justin Herbert by three spots, but suffered multiple injuries, including a torn Achilles last year. . . Did anyone else think it was odd that Lions kick returner Maurice Alexander rushed to the sideline at the end of a 47-yard return rather than of trying to truck Patriots punter Jake Bailey, who could have been the last line of defense? It’s not like Bailey has a reputation for tackling like Adam Vinatieri on Herschel Walker or anything.


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