CLEVELAND – The Red Sox come here and crap out. Glad that the Patriots didn’t follow suit.
Rick Porcello, you’re no Tom Brady. David Price, you’re no Rob Gronkowski. Mookie Betts, you’re no Marcellus Bennett. Xander Bogaerts, you’re no Chris Hogan.
David Ortiz, you’re no…sorry, not going there. Big Papi is immune. Ditto for Dustin Pedroia.
While the Cleveland Browns were trying to function with quarterback number 5, Brady made his triumphant return to the NFL and the Patriots on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. Shaking off the rust from four weeks on suspension, and we use the term “rust” facetiously, Brady threw for 406 yards, his eighth highest total ever, three touchdowns, and the Patriots celebrated his return with a 33-13 victory over the Browns. The Patriots are now 4-1 with the offense now back to normal, and the rest of the team looked like its old sweet self again.
Brady was 28 of 40 passing, no interceptions, and a rating of 127.7. Bennett caught all three touchdown passes and led the Patriot receivers with six catches. His 67 receiving yards trailed Hogan (114 yards) and Gronkowski (109 yards). Brady found a new long pass target in Hogan, who caught passes of 43 and 63 yards in the second quarter. Hogan was injured twice in the game, the second one enabling the concussion protocol, but in both cases he re-entered the game.
The offensive line helped Brady settle in and gave him time to throw most all game long. Brady was sacked only once for 3 yards. He looked like he was in midseason form, hitting all the passes he normally makes, showing no “rust” whatsoever, and never threw a pass that looked bad or un-Brady like.
One thing that undoubtedly helped Brady was the fact that he now has a two uber-tight end weapon again. Gronkowski and Bennett, if they can stay healthy, look simply formidable out there. It will remind everyone when the Patriots had Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez several years ago. Hopefully, both Bennett and Gronkowski can stay together a bit longer; Bennett is in a free agent year, so he will bear watching in the offseason.
Meanwhile, the defense played well, bent a little, and knocked two Cleveland quarterbacks out of the game, the last thing the pathetic Browns needed.
Rookie Cody Kessler started the game for Cleveland. The rookie from USC and Bakersfield, Calif. led Cleveland on a first quarter scoring drive which gave Patriot Nation Tyrod Taylor flashbacks. Kessler hit Andrew Hawkins for 16 yards on the first play on a right sideline pattern, then later hit Isaiah Crowell for 20 yards on a dump pass out of the backfield which the Patriots defensed poorly. A ten-yard right sideline pass to Terrelle Pryor, which was badly defensed by Malcolm Butler, was followed by an 11-yard touchdown pass to Hawkins to tie the game at 7-7. Hawkins undressed rookie Cyrus Jones, who would later be ejected from the game for punching a Cleveland player.
On their next offensive play, facing second down and 12 at their own 10, Kessler tried to hit running back Duke Johnson in the right flat. At the point of release, Kessler was hit by Dont’a Hightower and the ball rolled backwards, making it a lateral. The ball rolled back into the end zone and out of it for a safety to make it 16-7 Patriots. Hightower’s hit on Kessler injured his clavicle and the quarterback never returned to the game.
Cleveland had to turn to Charlie Whitehurst, their fourth quarterback this year (fifth if you count Pryor), and he did lead Cleveland on a scoring drive towards the end of the third quarter. Whitehurst hit Hawkins for 24 yards and Gary Barnidge for 31 yards on consecutive plays, with Devin McCourty the responsible cover on both plays. Connor Hamlett finished off the drive as Whitehurst hit him with a 17-yard lob pass over Jonathan Jones. But Whitehurst himself also got hurt later in the fourth quarter, as Jonathan Jones hit him as he was releasing the ball. Pryor was forced to play quarterback the rest of the way other than the kneeldowns to end the game.
Not helping the Browns quarterbacks was the complete absence of a running game. The Browns rushed for 27 yards on 22 carries as a team. Crowell had 22 of those yards, his longest carry of the game being six yards. Kessler was 5 of 8 for 62 yards; Whitehurst was 14 of 24 for 182 yards.
If the Patriots can be criticized for anything, it was for leaving ten points on the table at the end of the first half. On their penultimate first half drive, the Patriots drove down to the Cleveland one-yard line and went for it on fourth and one. LeGarrette Blount had been stuffed up the middle on third down, so Josh McDaniels called for a Blount end run on fourth down. Demario Davis and Tank Carder wrapped the lumbering Patriot back for a one-yard loss. The Patriots should perhaps have run the ball up the gut again and if the Browns stopped it again, so be it.
On the next drive, the Patriots had a chance to set up their “double score”. The Patriots drove to the Cleveland 32 but threw mostly passes over the middle without stopping the clock. They seemed comfortable sending Stephen Gostkowski out there to attempt a 50-yard field goal with 5 seconds left. But Gostkowski pushed the kick wide right. The All-Pro kicker is still not right since missing that extra point in Denver in January.
As fates would have it, the Patriots did score a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Bill Belichick passed Curly Lambeau with his 226th career win as head coach, now all by himself in fourth place. He seemed a little more upbeat than last week, of course, but offered little insight into the game other than being complimentary of the team in all phases of the game. Belichick even refused to comment on what Brady might need to work on, if anything, saying “You’ll have to ask him.”
Tomorrow, Belichick can say his most famous statement: We’re on to Cincinnati. The Patriots get the Bengals next week at home. Brady will play for his home town folk for the first time this season.
If the Red Sox cannot recover against Terry Francona and the Indians, Brady will have the entire six-state region all to himself. Trust that Brady will not suffer the football equivalent of 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
And when we say “all to himself”, remember that Big Papi’s career ends with the Sox. So Brady really will stand taller than ever in New England.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Julian Edelman Martellus Bennett New England Patriots NFL Patriots Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady