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Best record in the NFL? Up against Cleveland, an entire city which hasn’t won anything since ever? No problem, right? Apparently not. With a performance like that, the New England fan base had better hope that the Patriots took Cleveland for granted, because if not, it’ll be a long eight weeks. In Cleveland on Sunday, the Patriots were victimized more than a pretty girl in Ben Roethlisberger’s living room, and took the loss 34-14.
You could tell it would be a long game right away, when the opening kickoff was returned by Cleveland 36 yards to their own 37. The very next play? A 21-yard pass. The next? An 18-yard run. Cleveland got a field goal out of that drive.
Then an easy enough kickoff, with a fair catch called for by Rob Gronkowski. But there were several players waiting where the ball came down, and nobody went for it. Sammy Morris finally tried, but was in an awkward position, muffed the ball, and Cleveland wound up with it on New England’s 19. A 17-yard pass and a run later, and Cleveland was up 10-0, with just 3:49 elapsed.
New England responded with a three-and-out, which was VERY encouraging. Then they gave up the 1st down on a 4th and 1, after receivers in formation thinned New England’s line for Colt McCoy’s sneak. Cleveland did give up a fumble after a reception on the next play, but again, nothing doing.
It really didn’t get good for New England until their first drive of the 2nd quarter, and even that was very fortunate. At 5:01, it was their longest of the day, and included a 4th down conversion. At the 2-yard line, Tom Brady connected with Aaron Hernandez for the TD, but he connected with others first. For some reason, Brady saw fit to throw the ball faster than a photon, and it deflected off other players, bounced up, and forced Hernandez to make a leaping catch and mind his feat being in bounds.
Then instead of kicking it deep, Stephen Gostkowski did a squib kick, which resulted in Cleveland taking over at their own 40; keep in mind there was still 8:36 left in the half after all this. That led to another touchdown. New England tried to answer, with a 1st and goal at the 9-yard line, and Rob Gronkowski caught the pass, but fumbled the ball over to Cleveland.
After forcing a punt 2:07 into the half, Cleveland moved the the ball efficiently to New England’s 11, took a delay of game penalty, and then the Patriots left Colt McCoy alone, something they did all day, and McCoy scrambled the 16 yards for the touchdown.
Cleveland added another field goal before New England finally did something right on offense, when Brady connected with Hernandez (he meant to do it this time) on a one-yard pass. They’re about halfway through the 4th quarter at this point, and at some point before this touchdown, Stephen Gostkowski did something to injure his thigh on the sidelines and did not return; we don’t yet know what happened.
Interestingly enough, Zoltan Mesko did not come on, but Wes Welker kicked the extra point. And the ensuing kickoff. Pretty depressed at this point, the Pats’ defense allowed one more touchdown, a 35-yard run to Peyton Hillis. Brian Hoyer came on, since the white flag was obviously up, and promptly threw an interception. A forced punt and a kneel later, and the Browns completed their 34-14 win.
Brady was 19/36 for 224 yards, but those two touchdowns to Hernandez were pretty much it. A whole bunch of those incomplete passes were pretty much just dropped by receivers who didn’t try hard enough. And Danny Woodhead was the only rusher who even made a dent, for 54 yards on nine carries (with a long of 12).
Four rushing touchdowns allowed. Two of them to Peyton Hillis, for two and 35 yards. McCoy had the 16-yarder, and Chansi Stuckey had one for 11 yards. The Pats allowed McCoy to throw for 174 yards, and Hillis to rush for 184 yards. The Browns’ receiving core’s biggest producer had 58 yards on four catches, but four receivers had catches of at least 20 yards, and another had one for 17.
Not that there was much special teams on the day. They lost that kickoff to begin their day. Then Welker became the kicker. At least he made it. Ndamukong Suh booted one for the Lions, which probably would have won the game if they had made it. The Jets won.
Nobody got the players motivated Sunday. Brady threw too hard and just grounded some passes down the field. Not to mention all the dropped passes.