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December 06, 2004
Yes, Virginia, Patriots Can Run The Ball
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

CLEVELAND -- The Patriots were world champs in 2003 without a running game. What are they now?

Granted, this is a Cleveland Browns team that is in transition. New coach, injured players, season gone down the tubes. This was a team that could be pushed and shoved around. The only way this season turns positive for the Browns is if they apply for and get a transfer to the NFC, where 4-7 teams all over the place are in the playoff hunt.

But the Browns did succeed in harassing Tom Brady, and keeping him largely off his game. Brady finished with some subpar numbers, and the leading Patriot receiver had only three catches. And yet the Patriots still managed to win by four touchdowns.

Behind 225 net yards rushing, the Patriots easily handled the Browns, 42-15 in the debut of interim head coach Terry Robiskie. It wasn’t just the rushing that got the job done, it just seemed that way. Touchdowns from special teams and the defense also came into play, but there is no question that the Patriots’ ability to run the ball made this game a walk in the park for the Super Bowl champs.

Corey Dillon notched exactly 100 yards on 18 carries and a 5.6 average. Kevin Faulk managed 87 yards on 13 carries and a 6.7 average. Rookie Cedric Cobbs saw his first extended game action of his career, and finished with 29 yards on 16 carries and a 1.8 average. Cobbs was stuffed at the line of scrimmage often and had five carries for no gain or negative yardage. But Dillon and Faulk were able to find holes with great regularity.

This running attack helped the Patriots achieve a 2-to-1 edge in time of possession, as the Patriots held the ball for just a tad under 40 minutes. A first quarter Patriot scoring drive covered 95 yards and took 6:38. Three Patriot drives took ten plays or more.

The rushing attack set the tone for the entire game, a game where the Patriots dominated every phase of the game and, but for two Cleveland touchdown drives featuring defensive lapses all over the place, demonstrated New England’s utter superiority. Rookie quarterback Luke McCown did manage some decent passing numbers (20 of 34 passing, 277 yards, two TDs), but he threw two interceptions and was sacked three times. William Green, the former BC product, managed only 15 yards on 12 carries.

The Patriots broke right out of the starting blocks, as Bethel Johnson ran back the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. The Patriots made it 14-0 by the end of the quarter as they marched 95 yards in 12 plays. A 15-yard left end run by Dillon and a 25-yard left flat toss to Christian Fauria helped set up 4-yard touchdown run by Dillon, who suffered a lost fumble on the previous drive.

On their next offensive series, a 40-yard pass interference call on Lewis Sanders, who tripped up David Patten on a deep post pattern, set up a one-yard score by Dillon. Cleveland did manage a 16-yard scoring pass from McCown to Antonio Bryant as the Browns took advantage of a Patriot defense in a prevent mode. It was 21-7 at the half, but the Browns seemed to have a speck of life after that late score.

After halftime, the Patriots removed any doubt about this game. On the third play of the second half, Green ran left and was clobbered by Richard Seymour. The ball popped loose and was scooped up by Randall Gay, who proceeded to rumble 41 yards to put the game in the bag. As further proof as to how great this Patriot team is, just after Gay picked up the loose football, Willie McGinest tugged on his shirt and pulled him back so that the veteran lineman could slip in front of him and lay the block which would spring him to the end zone.

School was out. Following a three-and-out, the Patriots drove 73 yards in nine plays, with Faulk plowing it in from ten yards out. The Browns had the ball back for one play, but Steve Heiden took a pass from McCown and was hit by Dexter Reid. Eugene Wilson recovered the ensuing fumble by Heiden, and four plays later Brady found David Patten deep in the end zone and hit him for a 44-yard touchdown pass. It was 42-7, and time for Rohan Davey.

There isn’t much more to say other than the Patriots manhandled the Browns and exerted their superiority. The only reason the Browns managed 15 points is that the Patriots practically let them.

The first half ended on sort of a downer for the Patriots. The Patriots, leading 21-0, sat at the Cleveland 30 with 2:13 left in the half, fourth down and three. Bill Belichick turned down a 48-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal attempt and went for it. However, as if to say “Let’s be gentlemanly and not run the score up on you, Terry!”, Charlie Weis called for a simple off right tackle run by Patrick Pass. Predictably, Pass was stuffed for only a one-yard gain and the Browns had the ball back on downs.

Cleveland then took off on an 11-play, 70-yard drive where McCown was able to find soft spots in a Patriot prevent defense. A screen pass to Green went for 17 yards. Dennis Northcutt hauled in a 25-yard pass with no one near him. McCown finished off the drive by finding Antonio Bryant in the end zone from 16 yards out, threading the needle between Rodney Harrison and Troy Brown. The Patriots got the ball back, but the half ended on a Brady interception by Sanders.

The other Cleveland scoring drive was quick and dazzling. 93 yards, two plays. Down 42-7 in the fourth quarter, McCown picked on Reid and found Northcutt for 53 yards and Bryant for 40 yards and a touchdown. Somehow, Reid forgot the fundamental “keep the guy in front of you” edict, but it’s a sure bet Belichick will remind him of it this week.

But the Patriot defense overall was plenty good enough. In addition to the recovered fumbles, McCown threw two interceptions. One of them went to Rodney Harrison in the first quarter. The other went to (Drew Bledsoe, you’re off the hook) Brown in the fourth. Brown simply stepped in front of Northcutt in the right flat and made the pick. Despite the two picks, McCown still managed a rating of 80.1, better than either Brady or Davey.

In two straight games, Cleveland has surrendered a total of 100 points. The Patriot running backs were far too much for the Browns to handle. Robiskie, who is on an “interim” basis, has his work cut out for him with everything from attitude changes to injured stars challenging him at every turn.

Belichick, on the other hand, shows Brown Nation that he was disrespected during his tumultuous coaching stint here. Browns fans cannot be so stupid that they can’t admit that they let a good one get away. Given the hideous treatment he and his family endured, Belichick will feel this way every time he comes back to this city.

Belichick’s team responded with a championship effort, easily beating a team they were supposed to easily beat.


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