Report Card: Patriots Avoid Upset, Comeback Late vs Browns

Derek Havens
December 11, 2013 at 10:00am ET

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The New England Patriots defeated the Cleveland Browns 27-26 on Sunday.

While the team did get the victory, they still have a lot of work to do moving forward. Here is my report card for week fourteen. --

Offense Grade:  D +

The Patriots struggled a great deal Sunday. While that might be a weird statement to make when the team racked up 484 total yards, slow starts continue to plague this team.

While the offense has been effective as a whole, there's been problems to start games over the past month.

How bad has the Patriots offense been in the first half recently? The team has scored a total of 10 points the past four games. Panthers (3), Broncos (0), Texans (7) and Browns (0). If the team continues this into the playoffs the players will be on the golf course quickly.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski's knee injury (torn ACL), which ended his season, overshadowed every statistic for the unit in this contest. Going forward this season, it will be interesting to see how New England adjusts without Gronkowski. Perhaps leaning more on the running backs, more specifically Shane Vereen down the stretch.

For this game specifically, the Pats have become a paper-cut offense. Contributions from several players, nickel-and-diming their way down the field. With rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins ailing, Josh Boyce stepped up in their absence. It's clear he has some playmaking ability and the team is trying to put him in position to do that.

New England did not put themselves in good position to win the game. Five dropped passes in the first half, several long yardage situations, a turnover and poor execution made the team inept at times. The contrast from how bad they were at times Sunday to how good they have proven to be the past few weeks is head scratching.

Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady have their work cut out for them to adjust the offense yet again.

Defense Grade: F

Just when you thought New England's defense couldn't get much worse, this is close to rock bottom.

The most telling, and worrisome, statistic from this game? 494 yards. The amount of yards the Patriots defense allowed to the Browns offense.

My biggest problem with the unit from this game was there were two players Cleveland has to focus on. Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron dominated the game, both consistently making plays in key moments.

Gordon finished the contest with 7 catches, 151 yards and a touchdown. Cameron had 9 catches, 121 and a touchdown.

Going into the game, many thought Belichick would take away the Browns biggest weapons, but the defense looked lost throughout the day. It wasn't all bad, but much more negative than positive. Chandler Jones was kept in check, Aqib Talib lost his matchup more often than not and overall the team's defensive performance does not give a lot of reasons to be optimistic moving forward.

With several players banged up, some out indefinitely, this is the unit the Patriots have to work with. There's some room for growth, but unfortunately Pats fans have seen this defense revert back to living and dying on opponents mistakes instead of winning games for the team like they did to start the year.

Special Teams Grade: A

The Patriots special teams play has been solid all year.

This game was no different for the Patriots. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski nailed both field goals, continuing a stellar season. Punter  Ryan Allen pinned the Browns inside their own 20 yard-line three times. Rookie Josh Boyce, while he was contained well Sunday, still shows some dynamic ability at times returning kicks and looks to be the best option moving forward.

Punt coverage has been solid for New England all season, but kickoff coverage has been a little shaky as of late. Nevertheless, can't give the Patriots a grade worst than "A" after the miraculous onside kick recovery late in the fourth quarter, putting the team in position to ultimately win the game.

The Patriots had not recovered an onside kick in 18 years since the 1995 season. Ironically, the kick was recovered against the Browns, led by head coach Bill Belichick.

Overall Grade: C

Overall it wasn't pretty, but the Patriots were able to overcome yet another deficit for the win. New England received contributions from all three phases and while the end result was much closer than expected, the Pats were able to overcome early mistakes to get the victory. There's no doubting the team's mental toughness, which could be a big advantage in the postseason.

Question remains, has this team lost too many key players to win down the stretch? With the latest injury, how the team replaces -- or attempts to replace -- Gronkowski's production will be in focus moving forward.

The Patriots now hold a 10-3 record and go on the road to face the 7-6 Miami Dolphins in week fifteen. New England will look to win their fourth straight and wrap up their fifth straight division title Sunday. Be sure to check back for my pre-game thoughts later this week in my "Two Way Street" entry.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!