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For the third straight week, the New England Patriots overcame a halftime deficit to emerge with another win, even after Rob Gronkowski exited in the third quarter with what is feared to be a torn ACL. This time the Patriots escaped by beating the Cleveland Browns 27-26 on a Tom Brady touchdown pass to Danny Amendola with 31 seconds remaining.
After a failed Patriots two-point conversion, the Browns had one last chance to get within field goal range and steal the game back from New England. Jason Campbell threw for 40 yards before killing the clock with one second left to set up Billy Cundiff for a 58-yard field goal, but the game winning attempt fell well short to give the Patriots a surprising difficult, come-from-behind win.
The Patriots are now 10-3, a game ahead of the Cincinatti Bengals for the second seed in the AFC. The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins both won as well this week, so New England will have to wait another week to officially clinch the AFC East division title.
It was another slow start for the Patriots offense, as they were held scoreless in the first half for the second time in three weeks. They have now scored a grand total of seven points in their past three first halves. Their first half drives went as follows: punt, interception, punt, punt, punt, end of half. They gained all of 129 yards, and Brady was a gag-worthy 8-of-20 on passes (thanks in large part to a handful of Patriot drops).
It didn’t get much better to start the second half, as the Patriots punted for the fifth time, then watched the Browns’ Gary Barnidge scored on a 40-yard pass from Campbell to put the Browns up 12-0 (the Browns failed on their two-point conversion). The Patriots managed to cut it to 12-3 when their drive stalled out at the Cleveland 15-yard line, but Josh Gordon torched Aqib Talib on the Browns’ first play from scrimmage for an 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Gordon racked up 151 yards on seven catches with that one touchdown against Talib, plus 34 rushing yards to boot.
Shane Vereen made everyone wonder “Stevan who?” by accounting for all 72 yards on the ensuing Patriots drive, hauling in two catches for 66 yards before his TD plunge from six yards. The Patriots would convert that two-point try on a pass to Julian Edelman at the back of the end zone to make it 19-11 going into the final quarter.
The Patriots took nearly six minutes to give Gostkowski a 50-yard field goal that split the uprights, but three minutes later found themselves down 26-14 following a 4-yard touchdown pass to Browns tight end Jordan Cameron with 2:39 left in the game. It seemed the third time would be the charm for double digit deficits that would end in a Patriots loss.
Brady took the offense 82 yards down the field to score with just over a minute left, hooking up with Edelman on a two-yard touchdown pass to give the Patriots a last-gasp chance at an onside kick recovery. Stephen Gostkowski took advantage by executing a perfect ground ball onside kick up the middle that the Patriots recovered at the Cleveland 40-yard line, thanks in large part to an unnecessary roughing penalty on the Edelman touchdown that gave the Patriots an extra 15 yards.
Brady would need just 30 seconds to tally his 34th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or later, hitting Amendola for 10 yards before Josh Boyce drew a pass interference call in the end zone to set New England up at the one with 35 seconds left. Rolling out to his right, Brady would hit Amendola for the one-yard touchdown to give the Patriots their first lead of the game and the final margin of victory.
New England will now go to Miami in Week 15 with a chance to wrap up the AFC East. It appears they will have to do so without Gronkowski, however.