By: Bob George/
December 04, 2004

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CLEVELAND -- Once again, Bill Belichick is playing the other team up to the hilt. Beware the mighty Browns, the best 3-8 team in the history of the NFL.

Where: Cleveland Browns Stadium
Cleveland, Ohio
When: Sunday 12/5/04
1:00 PM EST
TV National:
TV Local:
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 712, 930
2004 Team
Patriots 10-1
Browns 3-8
Latest Line: Patriots by 11
It's been quite the last few weeks for the "new Browns”. Given an edict to win or be fired, Butch Davis led the Browns last week in one of the more extraordinary games in the NFL in recent memory. Quarterback Kelly Holcomb threw for 413 yards and five touchdowns, as the Browns rolled up 48 points on the road against bitter rival Cincinnati. The Browns sure gave it their all for Davis.

At least the offense did. But when you score 48 and lose by ten, things are still far from right. The Bengals ran up 58 points on a sorry Browns defense that now no longer has Andra Davis (placed on injured reserve this week). Davis resigned this past week, and some believe that he was made an offer he couldn't refuse.

So, Terry Robiskie makes his Browns coaching debut this week at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Not only is a rookie head coach making his splash, but Holcomb cannot play this week due to a few broken ribs. Rookie quarterback Luke McCown will get the start against the Patriots, and one has to wonder exactly what the Browns will trot out there Sunday at home against the world champions.

The trouble is, one of those people wondering is Belichick. What do you prepare for? How will Cleveland handle all this change? How much will the Browns heed Robiskie's call to arms and "fight with me” admonishments? How do you outsmart a team when you don't know what it is they plan to do?

This game is a classic example of something coined by Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe called "reverse lock”, something the Red Sox seemed to always be on the short end of. A reverse lock is a team which is a prohibitive underdog but projects to be a sure bet to win the game nonetheless. This is not to say that Cleveland is a "lock” to win this game; this is more like the classical "trap game” syndrome more than anything else. Still, it is a road game, and the Patriots really don't know what to expect from this wounded team with a new head coach making his debut.

Face it, Cleveland can throw a few wrinkles at the Patriots. Antonio Bryant and Dennis Northcutt are decent receivers who could likely make some hay against the depleted Patriot secondary. Steve Heiden is a better-than-average tight end. McCown is an unproven commodity, and Belichick and Romeo Crennel should figure out along the way how to rattle this guy, so long as he hasn't thrown three or four touchdown passes before the figuring out happens. And then there's this guy from Boston College named William Green. Cleveland has plenty of offensive weapons which can wreak havoc on the Patriots.

Still, the Patriots should be able to win (which would in part avenge their last game here, a putrid 19-11 loss in 2000, Belichick's first year with the Patriots), and win fairly easily. No matter what Robiskie instills in his players, it may still be no match for what Belichick instills in his players.

During this historic winning run by the Patriots, one thing they have largely been able to steer clear of is the trap game syndrome. The Patriots take their "one game at a time” philosophy very seriously. If you examine the 2001 and 2003 seasons, both of which ended in Patriot championships, the last time that the Patriots lost a game they truly should have won was the 2001 season opener at Cincinnati, a 23-17 loss where the team simply stunk all game long. Since that game, every loss a championship Patriot team suffered was against a quality opponent.

This isn't even the biggest reason why the Patriots should not lose on Sunday. There is something deep seeded at work which Robiskie will likely not be able to touch in any motivation speech he tries to deliver.

This was reported this week in some Boston area newspapers. Belichick is making his third return to Cleveland since his 1991-95 run as Browns' head coach. To spare any redundancy, Belichick was vilified by Browns' fans for benching local hero Bernie Kosar in favour of Vinny Testaverde, and for allowing the 1994 playoff team degenerate into losers in 1995, even though the real reason for the decline was the shock over the impeding move to Baltimore.

Belichick still feels deeply hurt over what happened in Cleveland, and rightfully so. Browns' fans completely ignored the football smarts in replacing Kosar with Testaverde, such that the Browns went 11-5 in 1994 and made the playoffs. The Browns squared off against the Patriots in the 1994 Wild Card round at old Cleveland Stadium, but this game was more Belichick versus Bill Parcells than the Browns in the playoffs with someone other than Kosar at quarterback. Belichick prevailed in the heralded matchup, 20-13, before losing the following week at Pittsburgh, 29-9.

It seemed that all the glow from making the playoffs evaporated at Three Rivers Stadium. 1995 turned into a nightmare for anything Cleveland Browns, but mostly for Belichick. The team went into the tank when Art Modell announced that the Browns would be moving to Baltimore after failing once again to secure a new stadium. The Browns staggered to a 5-11 record in 1995, then Modell shipped the team off to Baltimore. Belichick would be fired as head coach, and replaced by former Baltimore Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda.

Belichick endured a lot of personal trauma during his stay in Cleveland, according to the published reports. When Belichick landed in New England as defensive back coach in 1996, his wife Debby and the three kids stayed behind in Cleveland to finish out the school year despite his kids facing public humiliation at times in school. This family mistreatment hurt Belichick deeply, and he will carry it with him as he prepares his Patriot squad for battle this Sunday against Cleveland.

This is why any reverse lock talk is unfounded. For the Patriots to lose Sunday, they would have to trot out the least Patriotic performance of the Belichick Era. Belichick's ill feelings towards the region, combined with his ability to outcoach most anyone on the planet, should be plenty to prevent the Patriots from any underachievement.

Belichick will also have to prevent any Cleveland overachievement. His players will have to extinguish any fires Robiskie might light under his troops. Taking charge of the game early on and not letting Cleveland hand around for long will negate any psychological edge Robiskie might try and claim.

The brethren of the Dawg Pound will smell blood at the sight of Belichick. They may try and throw him a few bones.

Little do they know that all the bones were thrown some ten years ago, and Belichick will be chomping at the bit.