FIRST DOWN: ROCK BOTTOM
There were just minutes left in Sunday's game when the Gillette Stadium faithful erupted into a 'Zappe! Zappe! Zappe!' chant.
They were chanting for rookie third-string quarterback Bailey Zappe, who was closing out a 29-0 win over the Detroit Lions in his first career NFL start for the New England Patriots. Zappe was efficient, productive and careful with the football. He got support from the run game and a really stout defense. It was a complete and thorough win for the Patriots in every phase of the game.
Everything that could have went wrong did go wrong for the Lions, who now sit at 1-4 on the season.
"To me, it's about as bad as it gets," head coach Dan Campbell said. "This is the worst. This is where we are at. Sometimes it's going to get bad before it gets better. I believe we hit rock bottom, so now the only place to go is back up."
Detroit's No. 1 offense coming into Sunday couldn't finish drives and were shut out for the first time all year. The defense played better than it had the first four weeks, but still couldn't make the critical stops or contain the run game. It's clear with some of the fourth down decisions (0-for-6 in the game) the team doesn't have full confidence in a kicking game that's on the third place kicker in as many weeks.
It's a mess right now, and Campbell and this coaching staff need to hit the reset button coming out of next week's bye or this season will slip away before November.
SECOND DOWN: BYE WEEK
It seems the bye week couldn't come at a better time for the Lions.
"I think the bye week is going to be – I don't think it could have come at a better time for us as a team," wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said after the game. "You look at the injuries that we have. The guys that went down. It's going to give us time to heal up and rest up. Just rethink everything."
That's what Campbell and the coaching staff will be doing during the bye. Rethinking the plan moving forward.
Campbell said he's going to look at everything top to bottom with his team from scheme to personnel. He doesn't think the season is over or in a position they can't climb out of. He said he's seen plenty of teams start slow and turn it around.
But this seems like a big task with some of the issues this team has.
"Everyone has to look in the mirror over the break," Campbell said. "How do you get better individually. Just like I'm going to do. And we find a way to win the next one. Just win the next one out of the bye. That's all you can do."
This is good timing for the bye on the injury front for Detroit. Running back D’Andre Swift is expected to be back coming out of the bye when the Lions face the Cowboys in Dallas. Same with wide receiver DJ Chark. Both those players have missed the last two games. St. Brown is dealing with a high ankle sprain that he said limited him to about 85 percent Sunday. A week off will do him well.
It's a big week to get healthy and try to find some answers for what's led to a disappointing 1-4 start.
"We're going to have to dig ourselves out of it," tight end T.J. Hockenson said in the locker room after the game. "That's something we talk about every week, it's just looking at it and looking at yourself in the mirror. We all have to do it this next week."
THIRD DOWN: DEFENSIVE CHANGES
It's been a rough start to the season for the Lions' defense, so Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn decided to make some personnel changes Sunday against the Patriots.
Both Campbell and Glenn eluded to changes earlier this week after the Lions ranked last in points allowed and last in total defense after the first four games of the season. Those changes were rather significant.
Starting cornerback Amani Oruwariye, safety DeShon Elliott and starting nickel cornerback Mike Hughes were all benched. Oruwariye, who led the Lions with six interceptions last year, wasn't even active for the game. He's allowed a 73.1 completion percentage and a 123.4 passer rating with two touchdowns when opponents have thrown his way this season.
Will Harris started in place of Oruwariye and had one tackle before injuring his hamstring and leaving the game.
Elliott signed with the Lions in free agency after spending his first three seasons in Baltimore. The Lions have suffered a number of missed assignments and communication issues in the backend of their defense, and the coaching staff was looking to shake things up back there.
Saivion Smith, who was elevated from the practice squad on Saturday, started in place of Elliott alongside rookie Kerby Joseph. Smith only saw two snaps, however, after suffering a neck injury in a scary situation that saw him down on the field for some time and then loaded into an ambulance and taken to a local hospital. Elliott replaced him and led the Lions with 12 tackles, three tackles for loss and an interception.
AJ Parker was the team's primary nickel cornerback last year, but lost the job to Hughes in training camp. Parker played in 13 games last season with seven starts and had 50 tackles and seven passes defended last season. He finished Sunday with six tackles.
The defense did play better than they had coming in, allowing 35.3 points per game the first four games of the year, but Elliott said 22 points allowed by the defense Sunday is still too many.
"We have to play complementary football at the end of the day, in all three phases," linebacker Alex Anzalone said. "I feel like there are times where we have, like in the Washington game and a few other instances throughout the season, but that is what is really hurting us. When the offense is clicking the defense hasn't been clicking and vice versa. It's complementary football – that's how you win games in the NFL."
Sunday's loss was certainly more on the offense than it was the defense, but this defense is still trying to find an identity and the right combination of personnel.
FOURTH DOWN: FOURTH DOWN ATTEMPTS
Sunday was the worst performance of the year for Detroit's offense. Their 101 rushing yards were more than 60 yards below their season average. Quarterback Jared Goff failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time all year. The offensive line, which has been a strength the early part of the season, had some protection issues that forced Goff to throw a number of passes away.
And to make matters worse, when they did put some drives together and move the football, they couldn't finish. Detroit was 4-for-12 on third down and 0-for-6 on fourth down.
A couple of those fourth downs were late trying to get back into the game, but a couple early in the game that they failed to convert really changed the course of that contest. The first one on Detroit's first possession of the game gave New England the ball at the Lions' 45-yard line with a short field.
One in the second quarter resulted in a Goff sack fumble that was scooped up and returned 59 yards for a touchdown. Another was at the Patriots' 5-yard line. In all, five of the six failed fourth downs were in Patriots territory that could have led to points had they been converted.
The Lions were 8-of-12 coming into the game on 4th down, but are now just 8-of-18 after Sunday's 0-fer.
"It hurts because that's really a part of third down," Campbell said of the failed fourth-down tries. "You don't convert on third down, you better do it on fourth. We weren't good enough. It's an area we've been pretty good. When you're not able to convert those, you're going to struggle offensively.
"It was one of those days. Our offense has been pretty steady. Played pretty well. This was a day we didn't do well. We really never got in a true rhythm and we couldn't convert. We couldn't stay on the field."