By: Bob George/
October 07, 2007

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FOXBOROUGH -- It's really amazing, what passes as "adverse" in these parts nowadays.

Basically speaking, the Patriots played a lousy second half Sunday against the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium. After cruising to a 20-0 halftime lead, the Patriots pretty much sat on their hands and let Cleveland hang around, then let them beat themselves. When all was done, Bill Belichick had lots more humble pie to serve to his players, and they still managed 34 points. For the fifth straight game, the Patriots rolled up 34 or more points in a 34-17 win over the Browns, spoiling the Foxborough homecoming for Romeo Crennel and Willie McGinest.

Crennel had a pretty good defensive game plan, just not quite enough material to pull off what would have been a colossal upset. Despite the feel-good story of the great veteran McGinest coming back to his former NFL home of 12 years and three Vinces, he was no factor whatsoever. Randy Moss was held to only three catches for 46 yards, but containing Ben Watson was another story. Laurence Maroney was once again inactive, but Sammy Morris wound up getting his second 100-yard game in a row (102 yards on 21 carries and a 4.9 average).

This season has been pretty much a yawner for the Patriots, but that should change next week with a trip to Dallas. The Patriots haven't played a really good team so far (and counting the Chargers as a "good team" doesn't wash anymore). But to their credit, great teams decisively beat teams they should beat decisively, and the Patriots have done exactly that. They haven't played sixty straight minutes of great football for the third week in a row (they at one time trailed Buffalo 7-3 and only led Cincinnati 10-7 late in the first half). The rest of the AFC East is so bad that the Patriots already lead the Jets by four games and the Dolphins by five games (Buffalo plays Monday night against Dallas at home).

But the Patriots are showing that they can still slaughter mediocre teams even with less than their "A" game working. Consider Tom Brady, who misfired on numerous occasions and seemed off kilter all game long. He still managed to throw three touchdown passes and amass a rating of 105.7, with Watson getting the most action with six catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Brady played statistically his worst game of the season and his team still rings up 34 points.

The defense also seemed a little short of what they had been doing the last few weeks. They allowed Derek Anderson 287 yards passing (22 more yards than Brady), with Braylon Edwards the prime benefactor (six catches, 110 yards). Anderson threw two touchdown passes in his own right. But Anderson did suffer three interceptions, two of them on deflections, and two of them to Junior Seau. Anderson was also sacked three times for a total of 26 yards lost.

Still, the second half did see Anderson conduct some nice scoring drives (all his interceptions were in the first half). He led Cleveland on an eight-play, 56-yard drive to get the Browns on the board with a 42-yard field goal. Two drives later, he led the Browns on a seven-play, 55-yard drive which ended with a 21-yard scoring toss to Tim Carter. At the time it cut the Patriot lead to 20-10. Two drives later, Anderson would strike quick with a 35-yard drive in only two plays, Anderson hitting Kellen Winslow from 14 yards out to make it 27-17 Patriots.

What seemed off kilter was the Patriots allowing this much yardage to the Browns, especially with them minus Jamal Lewis since the first drive of the game. Jason Wright picked up some of the rushing slack (15 carries, 59 yards), but with the ability to overplay the pass, the Patriots gave up way too much to a quarterback who will soon yield his job to Brady Quinn. It just seemed that the Patriots did not play a full game of intensity, but instead came up with big plays when it needed to.

And it was the defense that put the Patriots over 30, not the offense. With 51 seconds left and perched at his own 4-yard line, Anderson hit Winslow in the left flat for 15 yards. But he was hit instantly by Randall Gay, and coughed up the football. Gay picked up the ball at the 15 and ran it in for the game's final score. After replay officials checked to see if Winslow had possession of the ball before the fumble, the score stood.

One encouraging sight which Patriot Nation could take from this game was Moss's attitude. Held to only three catches and overthrown often during the game, Moss still had a big grin on his face at game's end, the win secure. Many folks who might have been afraid that Moss would complain if he didn't get the ball enough would be thrilled with that sight, that Moss really was happier with the win than big stats, which he failed to get for the first time this season.

McGinest was largely invisible in making only his second start of the season. He was credited with two assists and was called once for offsides. But his return to Foxborough was momentous nonetheless, coming back to his old digs as one of the best linebackers in franchise history, and one of the more beloved Patriots in history. He is finishing his career with Crennel in Cleveland, but even McGinest admits that when his career is done, he will be "identified as a Patriot".

The Patriots will get their toughest test next week, as they make their first trip to Dallas since 1996. The Cowboys are 4-0 going into their Monday night game at Buffalo, and are considered by many to be the best team in the NFC right now. Bill Parcells has gone, and with it the chance at any Big Bill/Little Bill talk. But Tony Romo has put a charge into the Cowboys down in Big D, and Terrell Owens will be chomping at the bit to do better against the Patriots than Chad Johnson did last week.

The Patriots will get another week of humble pie, and there will be no shortage of intensity as the Patriots try to win in a stadium they have never won in in their history. Their effort against Cleveland will be sorted through and dissected, and what the Patriots will come up with is a simple maxim: Sixty minutes of their very best football will be mandatory next weekend.

Against Cleveland, the Patriots did just what they had to do to win, and again won big. The easy part of the schedule is now over. Next week begins a tough stretch of games which begin at Dallas, then at Miami, home against Washington and the real "game of the year", at Indianapolis. If the Patriots can make it to the bye week at 9-0, then you can really start to get excited.

But these last five weeks have been fun. The fun's over now.