The Patriots suffered what was their most complete defeat in years today when they fell to the Cleveland Browns, 34-14. The Pats were soundly beaten in all three phases of the game- offense, defense, and special teams. After not allowing a 100-yard rusher in their first 7 games, the Patriots allowed Peyton Hillis to run for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns. The 240-pound back bulled his way through the Pats’ defense, running behind a stout offensive line. The defense had no answer for Hillis, which increased the effectiveness of rookie QB Colt McCoy, especially on play-action. McCoy was an efficient 14 of 19 for 174 yards and a 16-yard rushing touchdown. For the Patriots, the offense could never get in sync, as receivers could not get open and when they did, they often dropped passes. That , of course, was when the passes were on-target, as Tom Brady struggled to find his accuracy. He finished 19 of 36 for 224 yard and 2 touchdown passes. After having a phenomenal game last week, BenJarvus Green-Ellis could not get going and rushed for 14 yards on 9 attempts (1.6 YPC). Danny Woodhead again showed how valuable of a pick-up he is, as he was the most effective offensive player of the game for Patriots. Woodhead ran for 54 yards on 9 carries (6.0 YPC) and caught 2 ball for 38 yards. Despite an overall ineptitude, there were two game-changing plays that set the tone for the day for the Pats, both of which rookie TE Rob Gronkowski was a part of.
After the Browns kicked a field goal after their opening drive of the game, they kicked a short, high on the ensuing kick-off. Gronkowski waved his arms for a fair catch, but watched as the ball dropped between him and Sammy Morris, and the Browns recovered. The Browns then capitalized with a 2-yard rushing touchdown from Hillis. Suddenly less than 5 minutes into the game, the Pats were down 10-0.
Before the half came to a close, the Patriots were driving down the field, threatening to bring the score to 17-14 Browns, and they were getting the ball after halftime. Then disaster once again struck. Gronkowski caught a 6 yard pass but then fumbled the ball on the Cleveland 3-yard line, which the Browns recovered. Aside from already looking flat, that play seemed to totally deflate the Patriots and they never recovered. Late in the 4th quarter the offense brought the score to 27-14, and they needed a stop from the defense to give them a chance to get the ball back, score, and then onside kick. However, the defense got run over by Peyton Hillis, as he rumbled with a 35-yard touchdown run. Thus, the book was officially closed on the game.
Aside from the blowout defeat, there is another situation to monitor closely during the week. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski suffered a thigh injury and left the game. Wes Welker kicked the extra point after the Patriots’ second touchdown, but he is obviously not an answer if Gostkowski is out long-term. The Pats have brought in free agent kickers throughout the season to keep their emergency list stocked. It will be interesting to see if they have to go to that list this week.
Next week does not offer a reprieve for the Pats as they have to travel to Pittsburgh and play the Steelers. After that, they play the Colts and then the Jets. If they don’t correct the mistakes from this week, they could go on an unrecoverable skid after sitting atop the power rankings throughout the past week. My how quickly things change in the NFL.