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Postgame, Week 5: New England 34 vs. Cleveland 17

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Looking a Little Shaky?
Patriots Survive Trap; Prep for Dallas

Let's hope that this was a "bad" game.

It certainly was the worst of the first five. But clearly the Patriots worst (if that is, indeed, what it was) is far better than some teams' bests.

There are better teams on New England's schedule. Like the Cowboys. The Patriots head to Dallas on Sunday.

But yesterday, it was the Browns, and while Cleveland played admirably -- any maybe showed some other teams how to defend the Patriots better -- the outcome was academic. New England soundly defeated the Browns 34-17, raising the season record to 5-0.

P1hotobucket - Video and Image Hosting 34 - - - P1hotobucket - Video and Image Hosting 17

The national media, still brooding over videotapes and their dislike for Bill Belichick, continue to look for ways to play down the Patriots' accomplishments. Take Sports Illustrated's Peter King, for example. In his Monday Morning Quarterback column, we get this opinion from his "quick-hit thoughts of the week":

d. The Browns aren't pushovers.
Well, if that makes you feel better. I think there are a lot of teams the Browns can beat, but to use a 34-17 drubbing as evidence that they aren't pushovers?

I'll tell you what the Browns did well: Cover Randy Moss.

In my game preview, I said "Even should the Browns contain Randy Moss, the Patriots just have far too many receiving weapons for Cleveland to cover them all."

In his post-game press conference, Cleveland head coach Romeo Crennel agreed:

Moss has been killing people and we didn't want him to kill us, so we died by the hands of somebody else.

Moss finished the game with just 3 catches for "only" 46 yards. But Tom Brady connected with seven other receivers a total of 19 times -- and there were at least three or four drops -- for 219 yards and three touchdowns. Sammy Morris ran 21 times for 102 yards, averaging nearly 5 yards per carry, and the Patriots as a team racked up 147 rushing yards.

I .. I guess that's not being a pushover.

Tight end Ben Watson alone accounted for 6 receptions, 107 yards and 2 touchdowns. It was his first career 100-yard game, either collegiate or professional. Watson also had his first career rush, picking up 11 yards.

New England running back Sammy
Morris (34) throws a block, leading to
Donté Stallworth's first touchdown as a Patriot.

Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / Matthew J. Lee

Donté Stallworth also scored his first touchdown in a Patriots uniform. On Cleveland's first play from scrimmage following Chris Hanson's first punt, linebacker Adalius Thomas batted an Anderson pass in the air, and Asante Samuel corralled it for his third pickoff of the season. On New England's first offensive play, Brady found Stallworth in the left flat, and Stallworth went about 25 yards virtually untouched into the end zone, aided by a Morris downfield block.

"I was trying to get the ball to Randy [Moss]," Brady said. "They played him a little differently than we expected. It was like double-coverage on every play, pretty much. ... They left Donté one-on-one and he made a great catch on that ball, and then his run after passes is one of his strongest assets."

Brady said Stallworth was his fourth and final read on the play and he credited the offensive line for their continued stellar pass protection. The Browns were credited with just two quarterback hits and no sacks.

Defensively, the Patriots held Cleveland under 100 yards rushing (92) and left quarterback Derek Anderson with a passer rating of 59.0. After the Browns drove the the Patriots 1 on their first offensive drive of the game (which ended with an interception), they didn't cross midfield again until the middle of the third quarter, a drive that ended with a field goal.

I .. I guess that's not being a pushover.

Anderson ended up with 287 yards, but they were Drew Bledsoe stats: Mostly in the fourth quarter with the game already decided.

Sammy Morris hurdles the pile to covert
a fourth down. Tom Brady hit Ben Watson
for a 25-yard TD on the next play.

Photo courtesy: Boston Herald / Matt Stone

That's not to degrade the Browns or their effort. They generally played smart, very physical football. Both teams had key players go down with injuries, and the Patriots were fortunate that most of their players returned. The course of the game may have been different if Cleveland didn't lose Jamal Lewis after just one play. But the outcome likely would have been the same.

"Give Cleveland credit. They're tough," Belichick said. "They can move the ball, like we talked about all week and they showed that today and they gave us some problems defensively." Thomas was injured inside the 2-minute warning of the first half. It looked serious at the time, but Thomas returned in the 3rd quarter.

"I just had a little incident, and you move forward," he said. "Somebody fell down on me."

Asked if it was his ankle that got twinged, Thomas referred further questions to Belichick.

Kevin Faulk apparently injured his right leg in the second quarter and did not return. True to form, the team has released no statement on the injury or Faulk's condition or status.

In the X's and O's segments of the various local weekly Patriots shows, the hosts (sometimes guided by Belichick) showed clip after clip of Anderson looking for Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards in the middle of the field. In some of those clips, linebackers blitzed, and Anderson was able to find the open receiver in the wide open spaces over the middle.

To counteract, New England attacked often with just a four- or five-man rush and peppered the middle of the field with linebackers and defensive backs. That led to tipped passes and interceptions. That's coaches spotting a tendency, coaches instructing the players, and players executing a game plan.

What are you doing? Patriots linebacker
Junior Seau appears to celebrate his
second interception during play.

Photo courtesy: Boston Herald / Matt Stone

The game plan put linebackers and d-backs in passing lanes. The game plan put two interceptions in the hands of a 38-year-old (39 in January) linebacker. (Remember all the preseason talk about the Patriots "aging linebackers"?)

Junior Seau uncharacteristically raised his arms with the ball in the middle of the field while the play was ongoing on his second interception. That's a definite no-no, and Seau had no explanation after the game.

"I'm definitely going to have to look that up," he said. "I don't remember. It's what happens naturally. It was a fun time and obviously I'm going to get reprimanded." New England contained Winslow, Cleveland's leading receiver heading into the game, much as they contained Cincinnati's Chad Johnson the week before. Winslow finished with just 4 receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown -- the latter on a two-play drive inside the Patriots 40 with less than 7 minutes left in the game.

Like last week, that left other receivers open. The prime benefactor was No. 2 threat Braylon Edwards, who caught 6 passes for 110 yards, but 36 of those came on one play on the last meaningless drive of the game.

It wasn't all pretty. Brady threw 16 incomplete passes. Some were bad throws, some were drops, there were a few throwaways. Only two were counted as passes defensed. Even Moss got his hand on a pass and didn't catch it.

Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi sacks
Derek Anderson on a delayed blitz.

Photo courtesy: The Boston Globe / Matthew J. Lee

Worse was the performance of punter Hanson, a "directional punter" who maybe just can't kick straight. Hanson punted six times, once more than he had in the previous four games combined. He averaged just 35.8 yards with a net of just 30.7.

"In the end we made enough plays, and that was good, but we left some out there too," Belichick said. "I think we just have to do a better job all the way around in all three areas of the game, and the coaching, and I think we can play better than that."

Thomas was behind the now notorious "humble pie" t-shirts the Patriots were seen wearing in practice this week. The front reads, "I eat it"; the reverse, "humble pie." New England made enough mistakes to warrant discussion after the game.

"Yeah, we picked a lot of humble berries today," Thomas said. "We'll have a nice dose of humble pie. When it comes tomorrow at 12:30, and you call any of us, and anybody answers the phone, by 4 p.m. a lot of ice cream will probably be out of the stores. We'll be serving ice cream with this one."

Thanks to The Boston Globe's Mike Reiss for his transcripts of post-game press conference comments.

Poll

With the Patriots 5-0 after Week 5, they will finish ...

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    ... 16-0
    (36 votes)
  • 15%
    ... 15-1
    (27 votes)
  • 41%
    ... 14-2
    (73 votes)
  • 11%
    ... 13-3
    (20 votes)
  • 5%
    ... 12-4
    (10 votes)
  • 0%
    ... 11-5
    (1 vote)
  • 6%
    ... 10-6 or worse
    (11 votes)
178 votes total Vote Now