FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)—The Patriots know how to finish games. The Lions just finish themselves off.
Corey Dillon scored two of his three touchdowns in the last 8:35, Detroit turned the ball over on its last three possessions and New England avoided a stunning upset with a 28-21 victory Sunday.
Dillon gave the Patriots their first lead of the second half with his 4-yard scoring run with 2:33 left, backing up Tom Brady’s belief that the Patriots nearly always have a chance to win.
“Any time there’s time left on the clock, we think we can,” he said. “For so much of that game we didn’t play with much energy or enthusiasm.”
That’s not shocking, considering Detroit has the NFL’s worst record over the last six years (23-69) and is 2-10 this season. It’s a surprise, though, considering the Patriots (9-3) talked all week about not taking any opponent for granted.
“Embarrassing, frustrating, but a win is a win,” fullback Heath Evans said.
The Lions took an 18-13 lead after Evans was tackled in the end zone for a safety when he fell on Brady’s fumble. Jason Hanson’s 26-yard field goal, his fourth of the game, made it 21-13 less than 2 minutes into the fourth quarter.
The Patriots needed a touchdown and a 2-point conversion just to tie. Could they actually lose to a team that started the day with nine losses one week after the Patriots beat a team with nine wins in a 17-13 victory over Chicago on the same field?
Well, Detroit did squander a 10-0 lead in a 27-10 loss to Miami in its previous game.
“We had our chance to win,” Lions running back Kevin Jones said, “but at the end of the game, we gave it away.”
New England was giving it away for most of the day. With 10 penalties and four turnovers, it was sloppy and undisciplined.
“We didn’t set the tone, the tempo, like we usually set it and it showed,” Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour said. “It’s obvious we have a lot of work to do.”
They also have a cool Brady and a hard-hitting Dillon, who led a mediocre running attack when rookie Laurence Maroney was sidelined for the game after having the wind knocked out of him in the first quarter. Coach Bill Belichick said “he’s doing all right.”
Dillon, who finished with 25 yards on nine carries, scored on a 2-yard run with 8:35 left. Brady’s 2-point conversion pass to Troy Brown tied it. Dillon also tied the game at 10 late in the first half with a 6-yard run. Stephen Gostkowski’s second field goal as time ran out put the Patriots ahead 13-10 at intermission
“He’s just got a nose for” the end zone, Evans said of Dillon. “He’s not denied too often.”
Then the Lions began playing like they have been all season. On their second play after the touchdown, Kitna’s pass was intercepted by Vrabel.
“I though we did an excellent job of overcoming adversity, but I let them down,” Kitna said. “I can’t feel any worse.”
But the Patriots continued playing like they did a week earlier when they committed five turnovers. On their third play, Brady completed a 9-yard pass to Benjamin Watson but he fumbled and Terrence Holt recovered.
Next it was the Lions turn to give the ball—and, this time, the game— away. On their second play, Mike Wright recovered Kitna’s fumble after the quarterback was sacked by Rosevelt Colvin with 5:57 to go.
The Patriots didn’t mess up the ensuing series. After an incompletion, Brady ran for 5 yards then completed four straight passes, the last a 5-yarder to Brown to the 4 that set up the winning touchdown.
“This was a typical game for them,” Detroit wide receiver Roy Williams said. “Their defense creates turnovers and then (Brady) works his magic.”
Mike Furrey had nine catches for a career-high 123 yards and a touchdown for Detroit, which also tried quarterback Josh McCown at wide receiver. He had two catches but was called for offensive pass interference deep in New England territory late in the third quarter.
Williams, doubled-teamed much of the game, had three catches for 50 yards and has 1,043 total yards receiving. The last Lion with more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season was Johnnie Morton with 1,154 in 2001.
“Look, we’re 2-10. It’s a good 2-10,” Williams said, “but we always figure out a way to lose.”
Kitna completed 22 of 38 passes for 314 yards. Brady was 27-for-38 for 305 yards. … The Patriots completed a sweep of the four NFC North teams, three of them in their current three-game winning streak. … New England’s Asante Samuel had another interception, his seventh of the year, after getting three against Chicago. … Dre’ Bly recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass for Detroit. … Reche Caldwell and Kevin Faulk had eight catches for the Patriots.