FOXBORO, MA — It wasn’t pretty, but the Patriots took one step closer to the postseason by beating the Cleveland Browns 27-16 in Foxboro on Sunday.
New England fell behind 10-3 early in the game, but they scored 17 points in the second quarter and did just enough in the second half to leave with a win. The victory improves them to 8-5 on the year and puts them in control of their own destiny with three games to go as they continue marching toward the postseason.
Quarterback Tom Brady finished 19-of-28 for 218-yards passing and threw two interceptions, including one that was returned by Browns defensive back Corey Fuller 49-yards for a touchdown. But Cleveland quarterback Tim Couch didn’t fare much better, throwing three picks of his own. Couch found himself under constant pressure, being sacked three times and under duress nearly every time he dropped back to throw.
Meanwhile, Brady left Sunday with his 8th victory in 11 tries as the Patriots starting quarterback and now finds himself feeling pretty confident about New England’s chances for the rest of the season.
“It was a huge game for us,” said Brady after Sunday’s game. “Now we’re at 8-5 and just continuing to make progress.”
“If we just keep doing the things we’re capable of doing – not turning the ball over, being efficient in the red zone, [and being] efficient on third downs, when the defense continues to play the way they do, we’re really going to be something to reckon with.”
The game also marked the return of wide receiver Terry Glenn, who saw limited action during the contest and finished the game with 4-receptions for 67-yards, two of which came during New England’s final drive in the first half to help set up a 38-yard field goal. Head coach Bill Belichick said that there weren’t any plans to manage Glenn’s playing time, and felt that having him back in the line-up helped give his team a lift.
“Well you know he gave us a lift,” said Belichick of Glenn. “He stepped in there and made some plays and we used the three-receiver offense a little bit and got some plays out of it.”
“He was in on some three wide [receiver sets] and when we happened to be in those sets he happened to be in there. It could have been more, it could have been less, it just worked out that way.”
However, the biggest lift of the game came from wide receiver Troy Brown who made 7-receptions for 89-yards, but also returned a punt 85-yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to put the Patriots up for good at 17-10.
“They gave me great blocking up front,” said Brown of his teammates on the play. “[The Browns] gave me a long ball to return and guys got going up the left side.”
“I saw Lawyer [Milloy] coming to kick out the last guy that I saw, so he got a good block on him and the next person I saw was Richard Seymour just creaming the kicker, and it was free sailing from there.”
Brown’s performance also put him over the 1000-yard receiving plateau for the first time in his career, a mark that he says while it’s a nice achievement, it’s the farthest thing from his mind right now.
“To tell you the truth, I’m not even excited about that,” said Brown. “I’m more excited about our [record]. We’re 8-5 and that’s the biggest issue that I’m dealing with right now.”
“I’m just looking forward to finishing the season out strong and whatever happens, happens. Individual statistics, they all come back to your teammates anyway, so that’s the bottom line.”
New England took a 3-0 lead on their first possession of the game on a booming 54-yard field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri. The Browns answered on their next possession with a field goal of their own, and then took the lead on the Patriots first play from scrimmage when Corey Fuller stepped in front of a quick slant pass to David Patten and returned it 49-yards for a touchdown to put Cleveland up 10-3.
But Brady was undaunted and marched his team right back down the field on their next possession, moving 66-yards on 11-plays with running back Antowain Smith plunging in from 1-yard out to knot the game at 10-10.
Both teams traded punts, and after Cleveland’s drive was stalled after Roman Phifer sacked Couch on a 3rd-down play, Brown returned the punt for an 85-yard touchdown to put New England up 17-10.
The Patriots then picked Couch off on their next possession, and Brady found Terry Glenn twice on the drive, including a 21-yard reception to help set up a 38-yard field goal by Vinatieri to send New England into the locker room up 20-10 at halftime.
In the second half Brady was intercepted on New England’s first drive, and the Browns capitalized with a field goal to pull within 7 with 10:36 left in the third quarter. Then with the wind in his face, Vinatieri missed two field goals of 39 and 48-yards and it looked as though New England had lost the momentum.
To make matters worse the Browns kicked a 22-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, and all of a sudden Cleveland found themselves within striking distance down only 20-16. But later after their drive stalled, the Patriots lined up for what would have been a 53-yard field goal attempt, and Vinatieri instead punted the ball. Jermaine Whiggins made a great play to keep the ball out of the end zone and it was later downed by long-snapper Lonie Paxton at the one-yard line.
The Browns went three-and-out and gave the Patriots great field position after a 20-yard punt return by Troy Brown gave them 1st-and-10 at the Cleveland 36-yard line. Six plays later Antowain Smith was in the end zone, and the game was well in hand for the Patriots.
A fumble on the Browns next drive by wide receiver Dennis Northcutt that was recovered by Lawyer Milloy sealed the victory for the Patriots.
Belichick will now turn his attention to their upcoming battle against Buffalo, and it’s a game that he knows his team will have to fight for if they want to keep moving forward.
“We are in a fight and we are probably going to get these games every week, just like this, just like we had last week,” said Belichick. “We know we are going to have a tough fight on our hands in Buffalo.”
“It was tough here a couple of weeks ago and I am sure that it will be tough there. But this team will just have to suck it up again this week and get ready to go up there and play [them].”
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