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Notes and Observations Week 14: Patriots Mount Another Improbable Comeback; Beat Browns 27-26

Tom Brady celebrates after he throws the go-ahead touchdown, capping yet another improbably comeback. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Sunday’s game was one of the more bittersweet experiences for fans of the Patriots. Down 26-14 with 2:39 left in the game, all hope was almost lost, fans made their way to the exits, and Tom Brady did what Tom Brady has done his whole career. With some help of a pass interference call, and a mistake on the Browns’ part by making contact with the onside kick, Brady mounted yet another 4th quarter comeback. The remarkable win came with a remarkable price: Rob Gronkowski is done for the season after tearing his ACL and MCL.

– The loss of Gronk is definitely a huge blow. The numbers don’t lie and the Patriots are better in every aspect of offense with Gronk on the field. There is no way to replace his production, but similar to the patch work defense that has been thrown out there due to injury, the offense will have to follow suit. The major difference in the offense this time around without Gronk is that they have Shane Vereen. Vereen has shown that he is a dangerous weapon on offense. He had 12 receptions for 153 yards on Sunday. On the drive where the Patriots scored their first touchdown, it was all Vereen. He had the huge 50-yard reception to start the drive, caught a 16-yard pass, and then ran it in for the score. Of course he can expect to see more attention with Gronk out, but his versatility allows him to be a mismatch for a lot of coverages.

– On the Gronk injury, I have no problem with the hit at all. T.J. Ward made a clean tackle and it is an unfortunate circumstance. This is the NFL that Roger Goodell wants. He doesn’t want defenders going high on receivers/runners, so they have to go after these guys low. I’m not a fan of Goodell for the main reason that he continually preaches this “player safety” gimmick but in reality player safety has nothing to do with it. This is the same guy who wants more Thursday night games, and is pushing for extended playoffs with an 18-game season. The idea of player safety gets thrown away if it means more money. The added focus on concussions has resulted in more defenders going low. That’s the nature of the game.

– It’s a shame that Brandon Meriweather is the voice of reason these days. Apparently he was predicting the future of the NFL when he mentioned “To be honest, you’ve just got to go low now.” and “you gotta tear people’s ACLs.” How else do you expect these defenders to take down Gronk? He’s shown time and time again that if you hit him high he will just carry you forward for an extra few yards. This will certainly bring out all the critics who claim Gronk is injury prone. Injury prone or not this injury could have happened to any other player. The forearm injury wasn’t his fault. Everyone going into that knew the risk of getting him back last season was that his forearm may not be completely healed. It was an injury that normally takes months to heal and he was back in weeks. This injury is definitely a blow to both Gronk and the team, but now the focus is surgery and rehab. With his work ethic I have no doubt he can come back from this and be just as good as before. Best of luck to him, you never want to see injuries like this.

– Now back to the rest of the game. I mentioned last week that none of these upcoming games are easy wins. The Browns have a better team than the record shows. The defense is one of the better ones in the league, Jason Campbell had a terrific game thanks to a tremendous job by the offensive line, and Josh Gordon is going to be one of the best wide receivers in the league for years to come. I was not surprised to see them bring it to the Patriots, and once again the Patriots only played one half of football.

– The Patriots couldn’t put it together offensively in the first half. The line was getting beat and Brady was being rushed. Of course this isn’t the first time the offense has stalled out of the gate. It is frustrating but this isn’t an offense that is going to run away with many games. They are still trying things out and adapting to changing scenarios. Obviously no one planned for the Gronk injury and the Stevan Ridley fumble issues, but this is the hand they have been dealt. The bright spot of this game is that 10 different players caught passes from Tom Brady. When the best receiver is “whoever’s open,” this offense is still a threat.

– James Develin has been a guy that takes “do your job” to a whole new level. Last week he had the goal line run that he kept alive through sheer power and will. Yesterday he had a huge 31-yard reception on a spectacular catch. He is a prime example of players stepping up to do what it takes to win.

– I’m glad they eased Ridley back out there. He had only eight carries but recorded 35 yards. It’s about building his confidence back up so that way when they need him full-time he won’t be hesitant. This team is definitely going to need him if they want a playoff push.

– The defense had a decent day minus the huge 80-yard touchdown by Josh Gordon. McCourty read the play wrong and it cost them. Other than that they kept the Browns close which allowed Brady to have a chance with just under three minutes to go. Credit to the Browns offensive line though allowing only one sack all day. Chandler Jones couldn’t get around Joe Thomas as Thomas showed he is one of the best offensive lineman in the league.

– Dont’a Hightower had one of his better games in a while. He is still looking a little slow in coverage, but that has never been his strength. He led the team in tackles with 11 and nearly had a forced fumble, but the refs blew the whistle quickly blowing the play dead. Hightower has had to adjust a lot this season to playing a new role. He has been called on to play the middle more often and in only his second year that is a big adjustment in a Belichick defense. A game like yesterday can certainly go a long way in building his confidence, because he is going to need to continue to be a key player on the defense.

– Aqib Talib had a tough match up against Gordon yesterday, and all that can be said is at least he didn’t allow for 200+ yards. Gordon is a phenomenal talent and that showed yesterday. Logan Ryan started the game but Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington saw more playing time the nickel package. Jason Campbell had a great game yesterday and much of that can be attributed to the lack of a pass rush. He had plenty of time to sit back and watch the plays develop. I stand by the belief that the front seven dictates the play of the secondary. Without a pass rush a lot is being asked of the banged up bunch.

– A bright spot yesterday was the performance of the defense against the run. They allowed 108 yards but 55 of those yards came on the Josh Gordon run that netted 34, and a 21-yard run by Jason Campbell. The Browns don’t exactly have an electric rushing offense, but for a defense that has been getting gashed in the running game yesterday was a nice change.

– Stephen Gostkowski deserves a lot of credit this season. He hit his 200th career field goal and it was yet another 50-yard field goal. Most of those long kicks have been important ones. He’s only missed two field goal attempts all season and certainly deserves a pro bowl nod.

– Julian Edelman continues to play terrific football. He had another touchdown yesterday and caught a two-point conversion. His numbers are just about identical to Wes Welker’s this year. To think he was a quarterback in college and is on pace for a 100-catch season is almost unimaginable. His work ethic can’t be ignored, but the fact is Tom Brady brings out the best in his receivers.

– Of course the pass interference call can be called “ticky tack” but consider this a make-up for the non-call in Carolina. With the way pass interference is called in the NFL that play was pass interference.

– The onside kick was amazing. Of course they lucked out when the Browns touched the ball early, but that was a great set up by Gostkowski. He kicked it where he had it so the Patriots could screen the Browns and it worked perfectly. Another way Gostkowski has done what’s asked of him to perfection this season.

– Next Sunday the Patriots have a chance to clinch the division against the Dolphins. Miami is coming off a big win against the Steelers in the snow, so going home to sunny Miami is going to fill them with confidence. A win next Sunday not only clinches the division but would put the Patriots in prime shape to grab the number two seed, and keep them in line for a chance at the number one. Here’s hoping they come out and play all four quarters, because as they’ve shown this year they can win only playing two. Imagine what they could do with four.

About Steve Bastek - @sbastek12

Graduate of Bridgewater State University with a BA in Communication studies. I've been a Boston sports fan all my life and enjoy having the opportunity to write about it.

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