Just when you think the New England Patriots can’t make their comebacks any better, they go out and pull off an incredible 27-26 win over the Browns. Down 26-14 with only 2:39 left in the game, Tom Brady and company did the impossible, and managed to score twice in the last two and a half minutes, giving New England a 10-3 record. Now this game provided more negatives than positives with how the Pats played, and I will address these things in a moment. But at the end of the day, all that matters in the NFL is winning football games, which is exactly what the Patriots have done, all season long.
Here are four quick reaction takeaways from this amazing comeback win.
1. Gronkowski’s Injury
Easily the biggest news of the day coming out of Foxboro, was the scary injury that tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered halfway through the third quarter. Fox Sports 1 has reported that Gronk likely torn his ACL, which would end his 2013 season. This is a huge loss for the Patriots, not only in their attempt to catch the Broncos for the number one seed in the AFC, but in their ability to beat quality playoff opponents. He presents a mis-match to every single football team in the NFL, and when Tom Brady and the Pats offense is struggling, Gronkowski is always there for Brady to go to. His unique blend of size, speed, and athleticism (not to mention a great pair of hands) is something that you don’t see very often, and the Pats will miss him over the next two months.
2. Defensive Front Stands Tall, Secondary Lets Pats Down
Coming into this game, the obvious weakness of this Patriots team, was their inability to stop the run. Injuries to Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, and Jerod Mayo have prevented New England from being that top 10 defensive unit that they would like to be, and allowing huge chunks of yards on the ground, has been the top problem. However based on just watching the game in live action, I thought that the front seven played relatively well today, against the run. If you take out Josh Gordon’s 34 yard run, and quarterback Jason Campbell’s 21 yards scramble, the Browns ran for 53 yards, on 23 carries. Granted, Cleveland doesn’t have the greatest rushing attack in the world, but seeing the Pats actually stop a team on the ground, was a refreshing sight. It should also be noted that defensive tackle Sealver Siliga received quite a few snaps in the middle, most notably over Isaac Sopoaga, who the Pats traded for just before the trade deadline.
The defensive backfield however, played horrible, possibly putting forth their worst performance of the 2013 season. Aqib Talib was burned by Josh Gordon all game long, and tight end Jordan Cameron ate up the middle of the Pats defense, to the tune of nine catches, 121 yards, and a touchdown. Cleveland finished the game with 386 passing yards, including allowing quarterback Jason Campbell to be sacked just once all game. This was not a solid overall effort from the the back end of the Patriots defense, and performances like this will not get you wins in the playoffs. In fact, if this New England defense shows up in the first round of this years’ playoffs, then I guarantee that they go home a loser, regardless of who they are playing. Things have to change on this side of the ball if the Pats want to have a successful playoff run.
3. Vereen Emerging As Explosive Weapon
When Rob Gronkowski exited the game on a cart, someone on the struggling New England offense had to step up, and oh boy did Shane Vereen ever do that. After Gronk went down, Vereen totaled 132 yards of offense, and a touchdown (stat via Oliver Thomas of NEPD.com) He finished the game with 12 catches for 153 yards. Vereen will undoubtedly be used a lot over the last month of the season, as he represents the biggest matchup advantage that the Pats have, now that Gronk is out. Vereen’s speed and quickness are too much for any linebacker to handle, and his ability to make people miss after the catch, is quite impressive. Look for Vereen to have an explosive last couple of games, and I expect his production to carry over into the playoffs.
4. Slow Starts Continue
Over the last four games, the Patriots have scored a grand total of 10 points in the first half (combined). Starting slow on both sides of the ball have become a normality for New England, and they have been forced to rely on their incredible quarterback, and his great clutch abilities, to salvage a 3-1 mark over these last four games. Bill Belichick will definitely be trying to get his team to start their upcoming contests better, because continuing to do this into January, will not result in playoff victories.