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FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 09: David Andrews #60 of the New England Patriots high fives Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots during pregame against the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

Before we got too giddy about a win over the Detroit Lions, let’s agree on something: the Patriots had a lot more to lose on Sunday than they did to gain. Under those circumstances – and independent of a 29-0 score that could have and should have been worse – they dominated the Detroit Lions with a third-string quarterback and stingy defense, the latter of which completely set the tone for the game.

Entering yesterday, the Lions had one of the best statistical offenses in the NFL.

Now those numbers look like downright fraudulent.

From the New England standpoint, here’s the question: what realities can you take from a game like this? The Patriots appear to have improved since the start of training camp, but their starting point was low, to say the least. The competition on Sunday was a joke. But let’s not forget that New England’s only two wins so far this season are against a pair of teams that are a combined 2-8 – Pittsburgh and Detroit – which aren’t the kind of victories that won’t move you up anybody’s list.

That said, here are a handful of takeaways:

  • Thankfully, the Pats aren't the Lions

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 09: Matthew Judon #9 of the New England Patriots sacks Jared Goff #16 of the Detroit Lions during the first half at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 09: Matthew Judon #9 of the New England Patriots sacks Jared Goff #16 of the Detroit Lions during the first half at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images)

    And by that, we mean the Patriots are still a cut above teams like Detroit.

    Maybe you were worried and maybe you weren’t. Whatever the case, there was doubt. The Patriots and Lions both entered this game at 1-3 – and the loser was staring down the barrel of a very ugly season. What we can now say definitively is that the Pats still look like a competitive program, even if that means middle-of-the-road. They don’t appear to be a spit-bucket like the Lions, who came in with all kinds of hype about their offense and put up up a donut. Does this mean the Patriots are out of the woods? Hell no. But it means they have a real chance of getting out, especially with upcoming games against Cleveland, Chicago, the New York Jets and Indianapolis – all beatable opponents based on what we’ve seen so far during this NFL season.

  • Bailey Zappe has played pretty well but that doesn't mean he's a starter - yet

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 09: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots calls a play during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 09: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots calls a play during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    In two games so far – only one as a starter – Zappe has completed 75 percent of his passes and posted a quarterback rating of 104.7, which undoubtedly has Bill Belichick wearing a smile somewhere. And for all of the criticisms Belichick and his coaching staff – specifically Matt Patricia – have taken so far, they’ve done a nice job managing Zappe, who made a series of safe, simple decisions yesterday that gave his team every chance to win. The one interception he threw was entirely on Nelson Agholor, who allowed a simple pass to deflect off his hands and directly into the air. But the Patriots still managed only one offensive touchdown and went 0-for-4 in the red zone.

    The offense still can’t finish, but if I were Mac Jones, I’d be paying attention. When you’re a quarterback, it’s never a good thing if the team wins without you – and the Pats have done that. And they’ve almost done it twice.

  • Jack Jones is a playmaker

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 09: Jack Jones #13 of the New England Patriots intercepts a pass intended for T.J. Hockenson #88 of the Detroit Lions while Jahlani Tavai #48 of the New England Patriots during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 09: Jack Jones #13 of the New England Patriots intercepts a pass intended for T.J. Hockenson #88 of the Detroit Lions while Jahlani Tavai #48 of the New England Patriots during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    Immediately after the Pats took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, the Lions responded by going 57 yards in five plays to advance the ball to the Patriots’ 18-yard line. Quarterback Jared Goff (told ya he would revert) then tossed into double-coverage on the left sideline, where defensive back Jack Jones made a leaping grab for an interception, keeping his feet in bounds at the 3-yard line. In retrospect, this was one of the two biggest defensive plays of the game, the other obviously being the Matthew Judon strip sack that led to a 59-yard touchdown return by safety Kyle Dugger. Incredibly, Goff’s risky throw came on a first-down play. The Lions were 0-for-6 on fourth down in this game and 0-for-3 in the red zone.

  • Rhamondre Stevenson is the team's best offensive weapon

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 09: Rhamondre Stevenson #38 of the New England Patriots runs past Jeff Okudah #1 of the Detroit Lions during the first half at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 09: Rhamondre Stevenson #38 of the New England Patriots runs past Jeff Okudah #1 of the Detroit Lions during the first half at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images)

    At this point, shouldn’t this be obvious? In five games, Stevenson has had 81 touches for 443 yards, an average 5.5 yards gain per touch. He now has 13 catches on the season – he had 14 all of last year – and he’s on track for more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. Yesterday, after Damien Harris was lost to injury, Stevenson finished with 161 yards rushing on 25 carries and also had two receptions, meaning he handled the ball on just under 50 percent of the Patriots’ 56 offensive plays. An extended injury to Harris (hamstring) creates obvious concerns about the workload on Stevenson, but something good happens almost every time he touches the ball. Among NFL running backs with at least 60 rushes so far this year – an average of 10 per game – Stevenson’s 5.5 yards per rush ranks fourth in the NFL behind only Green Bay’s Aaron Jones, Cleveland ‘s Nick Chubb and Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants.