The New England Patriots pulled off another improbable victory on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, overcoming a late 19-3 defecit to improve to 10-3 with a 27-26 victory. And as awesome as the comeback was, this game will be overshadowed by one thing and one thing only: the knee injury suffered by Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski was hit directly in the knee by Browns safety T.J. Ward on a catch and run down the seam in the third quarter. Early reports are that the knee injury is serious and could be a torn ACL. But if you watched the hit, you knew that.
There's no doubt about it, the injury will change the outlook of the entire Patriots season. This team and this offense is simply not the same without Gronkowski.
As for the game itself, the Patriots looked perhaps as bad as they have all season for about 55 minutes. After falling down 19-3 following a long Josh Gordon catch and run against Aqib Talib, the Patriots finally got things going on offense. Well, Shane Vereen did.
Vereen was unstoppable in the second half on Sunday. He started by beating linebackers, and he finished by winning match-ups against cornerbacks. Vereen finished with 153 receiving yards on 12 catches. The Patriots were lifeless, and Vereen's efforts turned that around.
The Patriots were also able to complete the comeback due to the improved play of quarterback Tom Brady. Brady was very inefficient in the first half, misfiring on many throws. In the latter portions of the game, however, he was terrific. He ended up completing 32 of 52 passes for 418 yards. The Cleveland Browns defense hadn't allowed a single 300 yard passer this year.
Down 26-14 with just over two minutes remaining, Brady and the Patriots faced long odds to win. However, Brady would quickly move the Patriots down the field, using the sideline well and saving clock. Eventually, Brady would hit Julian Edelman for a two yard score with just over a minute remaining. A personal foul added 15 yards to the ensuing kick-off.
With no time-outs and a minute remaining, the Patriots somehow beat the odds and recovered the onsides kick. The kick would have been short but deflected off a Browns player after the ball traveled about nine yards. Two plays later, the Patriots were aided by a questionable pass interference call on a throw intended for Josh Boyce. There was contact, but it was minimal. Considering the two losses the Patriots have had on questionable calls, Patriots fans will certainly take this one. Nonetheless, that's a tough pill to swallow if you're a fan of the Browns.
Following the pass interference, the Patriots would score on a Tom Brady to Danny Amendola one yard throw with just over 30 seconds remaining. The Browns would get the ball back and move down the field, but a last second 58 yard attempt at the win would fall short by Browns kicker Billy Cundiff.
This was not a great win, and the loss of Rob Gronkowski will sting more than a potential loss could have. Nonetheless, the improbable victory maintains the Patriots' one game lead for the first round bye. And while this team's Super Bowl chances probably took a significant hit with the loss of Gronkowski, they will keep on fighting.