When a few analysts pegged today's game against the Cleveland Browns as a potential "trap" game for the New England Patriots, I don't think any of them envisioned the result that we saw today. I sure didn't.
The game started out poorly for the Patriots. From the opening drive, the Patriots defense couldn't stop the run, which led to play action throws for Colt McCoy. Although the Browns were held to a field goal, a fielding error on the ensuing kickoff gave the Browns the ball at the New England 20. The result: Peyton Hillis' first of two touchdowns.
Down 10-0, the Patriots offense was stagnant. Throughout the first quarter, they couldn't stay on the field, picking up only 21 total yards. While the offense began to pick it up in the second quarter through the no-huddle offense, once they finally scored via an Aaron Hernandez touchdown, the defense let up a killer touchdown drive to the Browns. The drive was capped off by a Chansi Stuckey touchdown run on a trick play, which was some form of the "fumlberooski," without the ball actually touching the ground.
The Patriots got the ball back with a little bit over two minutes to go in the half. They were able to convert a couple of third downs, getting the ball into the redzone with just a little over 30 seconds left in the half. With a chance to go into half down just three points, Rob Gronkowski had a back-breaking fumble that was recovered by the Browns at the one yard line.
In the second half, the Browns continued to dominate the time of possession. Dropped passes, penalties, and sacks all ended Patriots' drives, despite their ability to pick up a few first downs. They managed just one fourth quarter touchdown drive.
On defense, the Patriots couldn't set the edge against the run, as Peyton Hillis tore the Patriots up. The Patriots' defensive line struggled to control the line of scrimmage. Peyton Hillis had nearly 200 yards on the ground, which is surprising considering that this is a Patriots team that has held the likes of Adrian Peterson under four yards per carry. The Browns' success on the ground directly led to their ability to use Colt McCoy on the play action. McCoy was efficient, turnover free, and benefited from some great receiver play.
Ultimately, this was one of those games that was a complete loss. The Patriots' back-breaking mistakes were huge. But they were not the only reason they lost: they were completely outplayed, in all three phases of the game. While the Patriots made mistakes, the Browns capitalized on every opportunity. The Patriots were completely out-coached as well. The team was beaten in every possible way.
I think the thing that bothered me most about the loss was how the team responded to every bad break. They were flat, emotionless. Instead of getting angry, showing some heart, and trying to shift the momentum, they just laid down and were beaten. To me, this is the reason this loss won't be a "humbling" experience for this young Patriots team.
This was a tough loss that will be difficult to recover from. And unfortunately for the Patriots, the schedule won't be getting any easier. They will have a road game with the Steelers next week, before taking on the Colts at home.