By: Steve Balestrieri
The last time 11 men in Boston stole this much, Tony Pino quarterbacked the Brinks robbery at 169 Prince Street in Boston.
For nearly fifty-nine minutes the Cleveland Browns dominated the game with the New England Patriots and with a minute and a half remaining led 26-14. But the Patriots luckily have a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback in Tom Brady and he never knows the word quit.
Brady passed to Julian Edelman with 1:09 remaining to narrow the lead to 26-21 and then after an on-sides kick recovered by Kyle Arrington, Brady led the Patriots on another drive capped off with a 1 yard touchdown to Danny Amendola and the Patriots stole one from the Browns 27-26 on Sunday in Foxboro.
As miraculous as this latest comeback was…and it was because the Patriots seemed dead after Jordan Cameron caught a touchdown from a very sharp Jason Campbell with less than two minutes remaining to go up by two touchdowns, the win (like Atlanta) a very costly one.
Pyrrhic Victory?: The Patriots lost TE Rob Gronkowski for perhaps a very long time with an ugly knee injury in the third quarter. So while they won the battle, they may have lost the war. For the first half of the season, the Patriots offense was mired in mediocrity and 22nd in scoring. Since his return, they’ve been lighting it up, leapfrogging up to 6th, and scoring better in the last six games than 30 teams.
Rob Gronkowski suffered a serious knee injury on Sunday.
(USA TODAY Images)
We’ll get to what we may see from the Patriots offense without Gronk later. But first some other quick observations from Sunday’s win:
Coaching Staff Fails To Have Team Prepared: No longer an anomaly, these slow starts are happening every week and the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff. The Patriots were ill-prepared to start the game on Sunday and their first half performance was perhaps the worst of all the recent slow starts.
Tom Brady was very shaky completing only 7-19 for 95 yards and an interception and the offense had five dropped passes. The defense only allowed six points, but it seemed they too hadn’t played well and were fortunate to not have allowed much more.
Starting slow against a Houston team that has dropped 11 in a row and a Cleveland team that has now dropped 7 of 8 is one thing. Starting that way in January in the playoffs will result in a quick ticket for tee times. Next week they travel to Miami against a divisional rival fighting for their playoff lives and with the slimmest chances remaining for the division.
Vereen Sparks Offense: In what may be perhaps his biggest day in a Patriot uniform, Shane Vereen stepped up huge after Rob Gronkowski went down and sparked the offense, on one drive accounting for all 72 yards and scoring a touchdown.
Vereen, since coming back from a broken wrist has been a fantastic addition in the passing game. Vereen was our “player to watch” on Sunday in our Razor’s Edge matchups led all players with 12 receptions and 153 yards receiving and none were bigger than the 50 yard reception he made split out wide and isolated on a Browns linebacker.
Vereen will be looked to even more down the stretch as the Patriots will have to change their offense substantially now that Gronk is down.
Brady Passes For 400?: On a day where the Patriots offense struggled all day, Tom Brady passed for 418 yards with 323 coming in the second half. But it didn’t seem that way, in fact Cleveland who hadn’t allowed even a 300 yard passer all season, seemed to have had the Patriots number again, much like 2010.
Normally when a QB throws for over 400 yards, one gets the impression he shredded the opposition’s defense. But nothing could be further from the truth. Every possession, Brady and the Patriots offense had to scratch and fight for.
But Brady doesn’t panic and one thing he and this team do so well, is to play for the entire 60 minutes. Down two touchdowns with a minute and a half to go, Brady put a game’s frustration behind and engineered another fantastic finish, leading the team to two touchdown drives to snatch a victory away from a game Browns team.
Secondary Struggles: On a day when the defense was facing the hottest receiver in the NFL, the game-plan was simple. Make someone other than Josh Gordon beat you. And Aqib Talib with safety help from Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory gets failing marks.
Gordon continued his torrid stretch, catching 7 passes for 151 yards including an 80 yard beauty on a catch and run. Gordon ran a short slant on third down and gave Talib an outstanding stiff arm that he was able to break free and race down the field for the touchdown. Tight end Jordan Cameron also had an outstanding day with 9 catches for 121 yards and was eating up the Patriots defense underneath.
The secondary allowed touchdown passes of 80 and 40 yards and wasn’t helped much by the pass rush which was pretty non-existent for much of the day. Jason Campbell was really sharp completing 29 of 44 for 391 yards and 3 TDs and 0 INTs.
Gostkowski Shines Again: In yet another superb performance in 2013, Stephen Gostkowski kicked two field goals, the first a 33 yarder finally got the Patriots on the board in the second half. And the second a 50 yard attempt early in the fourth quarter narrowed the Browns’ lead to 19-14. It was his fifth field goal of 50 yards or farther this year.
But his on-side kick turned the outrageous into distinct possibility when he bounced the ball right up the middle that was touched by a Browns player and recovered by Arrington.
Blount Picks Up Slack In Running Game: With Stevan Ridley being eased back into action this week, LaGarrette Blount ran the ball quite effectively gaining 42 yards on 8 carries and was the Patriots most effective runner getting some very tough yards inside.
He also picked a great time to get his first reception of the year, a pass from Brady where he displayed some really nice moves and turned it into a 32 yard gain.
How do the Patriots replace Gronk?: That is easy, they can’t ….. No one player on the roster or on the street can replace the things that Gronkowski does on the football field. The Patriots are going to have to bring in another body, perhaps D.J. Williams who they let go this week, but neither he nor Matthew Mulligan or Hooman have the talent to be anywhere close to the receiver that Gronk is.
Expect that once both Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins are healthy from injuries, the Patriots will use a lot of four-wide receiver looks in an attempt to take up the slack. Josh Boyce filled in well on Sunday, catching 3 passes for 49 yards and drew the crucial (gift?) pass interference call inside the end zone that set up Amendola’s winning touchdown.
Shane Vereen will continue to be a huge part of the passing offense and expect to see more of him split outside isolated on a linebacker. Time will tell if they can replicate the offensive production but one thing that isn’t lacking on this team is resilience…