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Patriots vs. Browns: Fan Notes from the Game

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Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 33-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

I spent way more time than I'd like to admit this morning thinking of the perfect movie analogy for yesterday's game, which marked the triumphant return of Tom Brady and yet another win for the New England Patriots. It wasn't that there isn't a treasure trove of apt comparisons here - I mean, the entire movie industry is more or less based on "hero gets knocked down, comes back with a vengeance" - but I just couldn't think of a movie that quite did Tommy B justice. Superman II, when he loses his powers only to come back and crush General Zod? Gladiator, when Commodus does everything in his power to fix Maximus's fights, only to find himself on the business end of his own dagger as he flails helplessly at one of the biggest badasses of all time? The Mighty Ducks 3, when after winning a State Title and defeating Team Iceland on the world's biggest stage, the JV team has to rally behind newly returned Charlie and band together to beat the Varsity team in a scrimmage? There were just too many possibilities. So in honor of Tommy B finally being back, I'll just say "insert your favorite comeback move here" and get on with the Fan Notes.

  • This game was more or less over after the the CBS pregame montage, in which Tommy B was as fired up as I have ever seen him. He came out to a surprising number of cheers, didn't so much a smirk once, and warmed up with a look in his eyes I haven't seen since the end of Rocky III. From there it was just a matter of keeping an eye on the game and making sure nothing too crazy happened.
  • Which was a relief, I have to tell you, as I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little concerned over how convinced everyone was that the Patriots were not only going to win, but win so big that Vegas was going to break trying to pay everyone out. It's games like that that tend to rub me the wrong way. but again - pregame warmups.
  • I wonder if anyone ever called Hue Jackson "Huge Action" as a kid. If not, what a wasted opportunity.
  • Poor Joe Thomas - he deserved better. This league is peppered with all-star players who are doomed to a career of suckitude because they play for incompetent franchises. I'm starting to wonder if Bill Belichick is getting soft in his old age and is dealing for these Browns players more out of his sense of charity than anything else.
  • New England opened up the game in a base 4-3 with McCourty back deep and Pat Chung roaming just behind the line in order to stifle the run and force Cleveland to beat them through the air - which they did, handily, on that first drive. There wasn't anything too remarkable about what the Browns did; a lot of comeback routes and quick slants. And while that really isn't what you like to see from your defense, I'm starting to get the impression that this defense is kind of a like a boxer who doesn't really start fighting until he catches a hard shot to the face. All well and good if you can adjust...but there will be some games on the horizon (Seahawks, Broncos), where points might be at a premium, and ideally you want to start hot and stay that way.
  • I'm 99% sure that this is the last time you'll ever hear me say this: I absolutely love that Brady took a big hit on his second snap back from suspension.
  • It sure is too bad that Gronk is a shell of his former self, eh guys? Looks like years of being injury prone has finally caught up to him. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.
  • It would appear that the only thing hurting this morning might be Gronk's ego, as he didn't get any touchdowns, nor did he get any end zone targets. However, I also feel like that is easily remedied by everyone just pretending that it actually was him that had 3 TDs. I mean how hard would it be?
  • But seriously folks - to anybody worried that Bennett will be usurping Gronk and Brady has found a new target and Gronk is going to be unhappy with his lack of TDs and those three scores would have been his in seasons past and blah blah blah, I invite you to go back and look at the game tape from those three scores and check out the bracket coverage Gronk drew vs. how wide open Bennett was. The Browns opted to double one monster TE, so Brady hit the other one. Coming out of this game, teams going forward might decide to double Bennett from now on, which will result in 3 TD days for Gronk. Or maybe they double both of them and Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan have field days. Tommy B is like me late at night, hydrated and hungry: doesn't matter where I eat, as long as it's open.
  • Speaking of field days, how happy is Chris Hogan right now? Catching passes from a real live quarterback for the first time in his career. Question: what do this guy, this guy, this guy, and this guy all have in common? Answer: deep threat city.
  • Blount's 1st quarter TD was 100% possible because of perfect blocking from Gronk and James Devlin. Gronk held his ground and allowed Devlin to crash into the B gap and take out two defenders at once, which allowed Blount the easy scamper to the outside and in. I don't think that Devlin gets enough credit for what he brings to the offense.
  • That TD was special for two reasons. One, it got the Pats on the board and capped off what we in the sportswriting industry refer to as one helluva drive, and two, Blount actually picked up some short yardage, which is more impressive than the score in my opinion.
  • Seriously - why can't that guy gain two yards on 3rd and 1? Does anybody have an answer? I'm getting sick of writing this.
  • This was my first time, as I imagine it was many of yours, getting an extended look at Cody Kessler. Pleasantly surprised by his patience and vision. Good escapability and pretty accurate. Shame that he went down so early on, I wouldn't have minded seeing what he could do as the game went on.
  • Poor Cleveland - it must be so difficult to lose your starter, then lose your backup, and have to go with the 3rd stringer. I couldn't imagine what that must be like.
  • On the plus side, the Browns now get to add another QB to their list of starters since 1999. At one point during the game CBS decided to list all quarterbacks who had taken a snap for Cleveland in that span in a scrolling list of names that lasted longer than the credits of some sitcoms. Makes you appreciate New England's QB situation all that much more.
  • And speaking of appreciating the QB situation, how about that Tom Brady guy? 28 of 40 for 406 yards and three TDs, at 96.3 QBR and 127.7 passer rating. Calm, poised, quick with his decisions, and accurate as ever. A few quick moments that stood out:
  • Everything.
  • Seriously, it was everything. The Patriots, through the first four games of the season, averaged 248 yards through the air. Tommy B hit 248 before halftime. OVERRATED SYSTEM QB!
  • The good news for everyone who will go to their graves with breath held and arms crossed insisting that Brady isn't a good quarterback is that you can spend this morning telling anyone that will listen that the Patriots beat up on a hapless Browns team forced to start their fifth string quarterback and this game shouldn't really count for anything. Silver linings and all.
  • My first thought after that safety that took Kessler out of the game: does anybody know who the backup to the backup to the backup quarterback is for Cleveland? Anyone? Bueller?
  • It turns out, the answer to that question is Charlie Whitehurst, who looks like Kal Drogo after an unsuccessful hunger strike to protest the negative attention that clowns have been receiving as of late. Whitehurst was more or less signed off the street this week - possibly literally - and appears to have hyper-extended his knee towards the end of the game, thus forcing Terrelle Pryor to do everything. The Michael Jordan approach may work in basketball, but it isn't going to fly in the NFL.
  • While injuries are up all across the league due to reduced contact in the offseason and less practice time and integrity, the number of injuries to Cleveland QBs is out of control - to the point where I'm starting to wonder if it's deliberate. I mean think about it - you get signed to be the QB of the Cleveland Browns, the Dr. Who of the NFL. You now have two options: play QB for the Cleveland Browns, or get yourself hurt and spend a cushy season on paid worker's comp as you add your name to this woman's jersey. Come back next season fresh as a daisy with the chance to make it onto an actual roster. What's the downside?
  • There definitely were some negatives to this game, not to be overshadowed by the return of Tommy B. For one, Cleveland's first TD of the day was the EXACT same play that cost the Patriots a perfect season in 2007. Cyrus Jones bit hard on the inside fake and Andrew Hawkins Plaxico Burressed me right into a nightmarish flashback.
  • He also might have bit hard on a third down conversion a little later on in the game, as he found himself ejected. Not a good few weeks for the rookie.
  • Third down defense might be a concern, as is the front line's inability to finish sacks.The team only registered two sacks on the day, but it could have been four or five if the quarterbacks weren't able to scramble away from the grasp and keep the play going. Tackling has been an issue all along the line and in the secondary as of late and it needs to be addressed.
  • Julian Edelman is also slowly increasing his number of drops every season. He had the 3rd highest drop rate in 2015, and he has let a few slip this year as well.
  • He can still block like an animal, though. This block on a 36 yard James White screen took three defenders out of the play with one dive.
  • I don't want to get too deeply into the Gostkowski miss, because 50+ yard FGs are no guarantee. But he now has three misses on the year, and they have all been makeable. I'm also finding myself a little nervous before extra point attempts for the first time since - well, ever. Kickers are a finicky bunch, and once they get spooked they're hard to get back on track. The uh oh police aren't at the doorstep yet, but they're in the neighborhood and asking questions.
  • Martellus Bennett completely whiffing the Gronk spike could be listed in the negatives section, but it was awesome. And the way Bennett played it off was sublime. As someone with a doctorate in trying to save face after doing something idiotic, I give Bennett an A+ for his save there.
  • For the record - a series of intentionally whiffed TD celebrations would be an absolutely genius gimmick. Get stuffed by the goalpost during a dunk attempt. Horrible rhythm on an end zone dance. The possibilities are endless - until the league makes it illegal and fines you.
  • Chris Hogan has a TD in addition to yesterday's number if Tommy B had just led him a little less. What a grab.
  • You're going to be hard pressed to find a better drive than the one that opened the 2nd half for the Patriots. Fantastic mix of run and pass, everyone on the same page, and the openest open receiver you'll see on a TD score from Bennett.
  • The girlfriend after the Patrick Chung interception, as I was yelling at him to just get down and avoid a potential fumble: "he's trying! Leave him alone!"\
  • The girlfriend was also a little underwhelmed by Chris Hogan in terms of the MCPQ - Marima Cutie Patootie Quotient. That said, I don;'t think that's entirely fair; when you're on the field with Brady, Amendola, and Julian Edelman, with Jimmy Garoppolo on the sidelines, you pretty much have no chance of leaving an impression.
  • Also - if she doesn't think Chris Hogan is good looking, I may be in serious trouble.
  • Elandon Roberts was all over the field yesterday, and may have passed by Jonathan Freeny on the depth chart. Had a few backfield tackles, controlled the lateral zone behind the font line, and kept most plays in front of him. Also came in on a few blitzes that drew a holding penalty and forced early throw.
  • Yesterday also might have been Malcom Brown's best game as a Patriot - which I have now written multiple times. He's on the upward trajectory. Completely controlled the middle of the field, two sacks, three solo tackles, and was a huge factor in limiting Cleveland to just 27 yards rushing.
  • That slows-as-molasses Tommy B scramble for a 1st down late in the 3rd quarter followed by a little first down celebration is probably going to go down as my favorite moment of the entire 2016 season.
  • Glad to see the NFL, after being caught red handed not giving a single speck of dog crap about player safety on multiple occasions, decided to limit the amount of head contact by forcing defenders to go low at the knees, either risking serious knee injury or a player's helmet slamming into the turf.
  • Wish the Patriots had gotten a little more pressure off the edges yesterday. They crashed the middle a lot to take advantage of a 3rd string center, which as a result left the tackles in single coverage on the edge defenders.
  • Good Tebow Illegal Hands to the Face is the worst penalty in the NFL.
  • I'd call the Browns defense out for celebrating when they held Blount to no gain down 17 with less than nine minutes to play...but that's just mean. Let them have it when they can get it.
  • I was happy to see Jimmy G back out there for so many reasons. Good to see you again, buddy!
  • I also legit expected Garoppolo to go seven of eight for 78 yards and a score there. Oh well.
  • Live look at Roger Goodell watching Tommy B's return to the field to a standing ovation.

We're on to Cincinnati.

Nobody has ever said that before, right? I'm the first one?