November 07, 2010
A Complete Patriot Brown-Out In Cleveland
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
CLEVELAND -- The folks here in Cleveland don't care much for Bill Belichick, and on Sunday they got a good expose on why they hated him when he coached their team.
And of course, Belichick feels much the same for Eric Mangini, who betrayed Belichick four years ago and bolted for the hated Jets. Now here he is, in Belichick's last head coaching job, and Belichick's worst nightmare came true. Mangini outcoached the snot out of Belichick in front of the only fans in the world who don't believe that Belichick is the best coach since Lombardi.
Nothing at all worked for the Patriots. From the very beginning and a botched kickoff return to a game-sealing 35-yard touchdown run by a bowling ball running back when the defense needed a three-and-out, the Patriots were beaten in every way possible by the Cleveland Browns. The Browns shamed the Patriots, 34-14, and saying shamed is putting it lightly. Mangini got perhaps his most satisfying win as an NFL head coach, but the bottom line is that the Browns played like the up and coming team they are right now, while the Patriots got caught in the proverbial trap game syndrome and played completely inept and flat all game long.
The Patriots now have a new Peyton to worry about, though thank goodness for the Patriots they don't see the Browns very often. Peyton Hillis, the third year fire hydrant running back out of Arkansas, is sending a message to the rest of the league that he is going to be one of the premier backs in the league. His first carry was an 18-yard dandy on the second play of the game, where he burst through a hole in the middle and did a nice hurdle over James Sanders for some extra yards. Hillis finished with 184 yards rushing and 220 yards from scrimmage, and dominated the Patriots a lot like Ray Rice of Baltimore did in the January playoff loss. Hillis is listed at six-foot-two and 250 pounds, and demonstrated how hard he was to bring down all game long.
Colt McCoy, the rookie quarterback from Texas who had to wait until the third round to be drafted, played well in his third consecutive start since taking over for injured veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. McCoy, who replaced Vince Young at Texas and forged his own great career in Austin, hit on 14 of 19 passes for 174 yards and scored himself on a nice 15-yard scramble. He showed a great deal of confidence all game long, and showed a great deal of pocket presence.
But perhaps the real story of the game is what the Patriots didn't do on offense. Tom Brady was uncharacteristically awful all game long, showing a lack of intensity and inaccuracy you normally don't see. It permeated itself to the rest of the team, as Brady had misfire after misfire. The Browns defense did play well for most of the game, but Brady at times misfired on passes he normally completes in his sleep.
His receivers didn't help much either. Rob Gronkowski had the worst game of his young career, with three drops. Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker also suffered inopportune drops. It really wasn't about what the Browns were and weren't doing, though it was clear that the Browns wanted to win the game a lot more than the Patriots did.
Gronkowski got the Patriots off on the wrong foot right away with a costly mistake on the kickoff following the Browns' opening drive which resulted in a field goal by former Patriot Phil Dawson. Dawson's kick was a short popup to keep the ball away from Brandon Tate. As Sammy Morris was about to catch the ball, Gronkowski signaled for a fair catch. The call threw off Morris, and the running back muffed the ball. Former Patriot Ray Ventrone fell on the ball, and two plays later Hillis ran it in from two yards out to make it 10-0 Browns barely five minutes into the game.
The Patriots seemingly never recovered from this mistake. After a three-and-out by the Patriots, the Browns' next drive ended with their only mistake of the day. Hillis broke off on an 18-yard run, but at the end of the run lost the ball when Devin McCourty made a nice play on a strip. Brandon Meriweather recovered the fumble, but the Patriots responded with only 13 yards in six plays and a punt.
The teams exchanged punts for a while, then the Patriots got their only score of the first half and needed a lucky break to get it. On second and goal at the two, Brady fired a pass into the end zone which was deflected up in the air. Hernandez made a nice leaping catch off the carom and came down in the back of the end zone to make it 10-7 Browns.
But after getting the ball back, the Patriots stumbled again. Driving from their own 30 to the Cleveland 9 with less than two minutes to go in the first half, Brady found Gronkowski in the right flat for 5 yards. But while being tackled, Abram Elam stripped the ball loose and recovered at the two. The turnover seemed to deflate the Patriots as they went into the locker room.
The Patriots opened the second half with Brady killing the drive with three misfires. Cleveland got the ball back and drove 72 yards in ten plays, with McCoy pulling off his 16-yard scramble to make it 17-7 Browns. Along the way, Hillis carried the ball on the first five plays for 22 yards, and McCoy was able to turn a broken play into a 20-yard completion to Brian Robiskie to put the Browns into the red zone. The pass to Robiskie, his only catch of the day, typified the day for the Patriots in that the play was completely blown up and McCoy managed to scramble to his right and hit Robiskie on a nice diving catch.
Brady did manage a nice drive in the fourth quarter with a 69-yard drive which ended in a one-yard pass to Hernandez for a touchdown. But the drive took 15 plays, and the Patriots elected to not onside kick. Needing a three-and-out with 6:37 remaining, Hillis carried the ball six times and covered all 60 yards by himself, the last 35 on a right end run where he outran Jerod Mayo in containment. This was even more remarkable given that Hillis was stopped for a 5-yard loss on the first play, but then gained 15 right back on the next play.
Mangini really shined today in the coaching matchup. Ditto for the coordinators, Brian Daboll and Rob Ryan, who naturally are both former Patriots. Daboll mixed in some Wildcat formations and scored a touchdown on one of them, when Josh Cribbs handed off to Chansi Stuckey and he ran it in around left end for 11 yards and a score. Ryan's defense stopped the passing game when it was most needed and left Brady flustered and off balance all game long.
It was perfectly clear that the Patriots were not ready to play football on Sunday. But it should also be said that Cleveland as a team is sending a message to the league, not only Hillis. Cleveland has now beaten New Orleans and now the Patriots in successive games, and they get the Jets next week. The Browns are taking the league by surprise, and though sooner or later the league will find an answer for the Browns, especially McCoy and Hillis, there is no question that the Browns were the better team and played like it.
As for Belichick, he once again leaves Cleveland with his tail between his legs. He loses to Mangini in front of fans that hate him. Things will rarely get this bad for Belichick, but this week, he really has to be smarting.
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