Monday, November 8, 2010

Patriots 14, Browns 34

Last week at
[The Patriots] have a game against the 2-5 Browns next week.  But don't take that game too lightly -- the Browns beat the Saints the last time they played, and the last time [head coach Eric Mangini] had a bye week to prepare for the Patriots he unexpectedly beat them.
This week at

I warned you!

NFL teams are just too closely matched to have an off week like the Patriots did yesterday, and with two critical fumbles and multiple dropped passes (and off-target passes), the Pats lost to the Browns 34-14 in Cleveland.  The game leaves them at 6-2 and in a first place tie with the Jets, who pulled out an overtime win against the Lions, and leaves them scratching their heads over a game that some had labeled "a second bye week" for the local 11.

There were too many bad plays and players to single them all out, but here were some critical plays that went badly awry and players who underperformed.

The Browns first kickoff was purposefully left short to avoid Brandon Tate's explosive return abilities.  Rob Gronkowski signaled a fair catch at the 20, and should have caught it.  But inexplicably, he let it go and a shocked Sammie Morris tried to dive on it, but it squirted free and the Browns recovered.  Two plays later, the Browns punched it in for a 10-0 lead less than 4:00 into the game.

It was a terrible play on a lot of fronts.  Gronkowski appeared ready to block for Morris; but once he signaled fair catch he can't do that anymore.  So once he'd signaled for the fair catch, there was really no other option.  It was a very bad rookie mistake, and one that should earn him a few extra laps at practice this week.

However, it wasn't his only bad play.  On the Patriots opening drive, he dropped a short swing pass that would have left them with third-and-short, but instead it was third-and-seven.  The next drop wasn't his fault; but he had several others during the game.  He also fumbled at the Browns' 2 yard line just before the half, on a drive that appeared destined to leave the dominated Patriots just 3 points behind at the break.

Gronk wasn't the only one with dropped passes: Aaron Hernandez had two, Deion Branch had one, Wes Welker had an uncharacteristic drop, and Danny Woodhead "contributed" one of his own.  And in another terrible play, Brandon Tate dropped an easy one across the middle that would have made it first down in Browns territory with the game still in doubt in the third quarter.  No excuse; he just flat out dropped it -- and the Patriots had to punt again.

Tom Brady was clearly frustrated with the drops and with what he thought were bad patterns.  But he didn't help the cause, his throws were all over the place -- some too high, some too low, and some to the wrong spot.  For the most part the protection was mediocre; though the Browns only got one sack, they often made Brady throw off his back foot or only after sliding in the pocket.

And speaking of the offensive line; maybe they need to start Dan Connolly instead of Logan Mankins.  Because they were pathetic yesterday.  No push in the running game, three-man rushes that forced Brady out of the pocket, bad blocking on unsuccessful screens, and some free rushers coming at Brady.  Mankins didn't do much for his erstwhile free agency campaign in 2011; though it doesn't all fall to him.  Sebastian Vollmer got knocked on his ass a few times, and Stephen Neal whiffed on at least two one-on-one assignments.

Browns running back Peyton Hillis ran right through the defense; much more so than Ray Rice in the playoffs last year.  The Patriots tackling was terrible -- Hillis bounced off a three-man group at the goal-line then swung around them an early touchdown.  And every time the defense needed to make a sure tackle to stop a drive, the Browns players outran them to the corner (Jerod Mayo, Jermaine Cunningham, and Kyle Arrington), shook off arm tackles (Brandon Spikes and Tully Banta-Cain), or plowed over them (Brandon Deadrick, Vince Wilfork, and Gary Guyton).

When Jonathan Wilihite was your surest tackler, you *know* it was a bad day.  But don't think he had a great game, either.  In the first half, the Pats desperately needed to hold the Browns to a field goal to keep the game close.  They had them in third-and-four, and called the perfect defense -- an overload blitz.  Wilhite came in unblocked with a free shot at Browns QB Colt McCoy.  But Wilhite did the one thing he should never have done -- missed McCoy and let him break contain to the outside, where he threw a six-yard completion.  The next play was a Cleveland touchdown, rather than a field goal attempt.

On "special" teams, the entire kickoff return team was pathetic.  It was as if they'd never seen a a short kickoff -- no one knew what to do with the ball.  Aside from Gronkowski's screw up, Alge Crumpler did a fair catch with no one around him.  The Patriots best returner of the day was offensive lineman Dan Connolly -- who took the short kickoffs and ran them straight ahead for positive yardage.  And at the end of the game, Stephen Gostkowski was injured enough that Wes Welker kicked an extra point and the ensuing kickoff.

Add to that another bad snap by Jake Ingram (on a punt), and the fact that they controlled dangerous return man Joshua Cribbs by kicking it short and giving the Browns a short field -- and it was a very bad day on special teams.

I won't mention coaching, other than to say it's obvious which team was better prepared for the game.

So where does that leave us?  Well... 6-2 projects to 12-4 over an entire season, and that would surely get the Patriots in the playoffs.  No telling how the second half will go; but with a young defense and some young skill position players, there are bound to be down weeks like this.  In fact, there might be more of them a the season goes on, because the college football season is about 10 or 11 games long -- so some of those players will hit the rookie wall soon.  Steelers in Pittsburgh up next; hold onto your hat if they play poorly again.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The oddity is that for the first time in 200+ updates I don't have time to research a decent oddity.  Maybe I'll do two next week instead -- sorry :(

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "If the Randy Moss trade was addition by subtraction, was Logan Mankins' return subtraction by addition?"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  6-2!

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