Fumble, punt, fumble, interception, fumble.
That’s how the New England Patriots started their exhibition game against the Detroit Lions.
It wasn’t the back end of the roster playing for a spot on the team, either. These were the starters playing the first half of what is considered the most important tuneup of the preseason:
"Our message has been the same here from Day 1 that ball security is of the highest priority for anybody that handles the ball," Belichick said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. "There can be no mistake about that message. That message has been delivered ad nauseam."
Belichick did not comment on why third-string quarterback Tim Tebow, who was 5 for 19 for 54 yards in the first two exhibition games, did not play. After the game on Thursday night, he said, "Because I only played two quarterbacks."
Asked on Friday why Pro Bowl defensive lineman Vince Wilfork did not play, Belichick said, "Because there were other players who played."
But not very well.
The Patriots moved the ball well on the opening drive before tight end Zach Sudfeld -- who is expected to play a key role in replacing the imprisoned Aaron Hernandez -- fumbled at the Lions’ 10 yard-line. Detroit drove to the New England 5 yard-line before kicking a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
The Patriots went three-and-out on their next possession and then got the ball back on a punt at their own 13. A penalty pushed them back and they were at the original line of scrimmage when Brandon Bolden coughed up the ball.
The Lions couldn’t move the ball before missing a 31-yard field goal. But it wouldn’t be long before New England would turn the ball over again.
On the fifth play, Brady threw the ball into coverage and it was picked off by Chris Houston. Four plays later, Matt Stafford hit Tony Scheffler on a 9-yard touchdown pass that made it 10-0.
After the kickoff, the Patriots managed just two plays before Shane Vereen fumbled on his own 6 yard-line. Four plays later, it was 13-0.
"We didn’t do anything in the first half other than turn the ball over," Brady said. "You aren’t going to score in this league unless you can string a bunch of plays together. We could never get more than a couple plays in a row before we shot ourselves in the foot."
The turnovers didn’t just cost the Patriots a meaningless game; it may have kept them from working on what they needed to see in the penultimate exhibition game: According to ESPN.com, Vereen and Bolden never got back on the field.
The Patriots, who won their first two exhibition games, will play the New York Giants at home next Thursday in their final tuneup, then open the season against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 8.