Tom Brady made a triumphant return to Cleveland on Sunday and had a Tom Terrific game. 70% of passes completed, 406 yards, and 3 TD passes to Martellus Bennett. The Patriots offense looked as good as I thought they could in the offseason when they traded for Marty B. The Patriots are now 4-1 and now face three tough on their schedule with two AFC rivals and a road game against a divisional opponent before their Week 9 bye.
Recap of the Patriots win:
For the Patriots, the Cleveland game was a tune-up for Brady and the offense to get healthy and in football shape. The Patriots offense showed how difficult the 2 TE offense is to defend for teams as the Patriots have two obvious mismatches on the roster. The Patriots defense also played well, stopping the Browns running attack before shutting down their passing attack after starting QB Cody Kessler got injured. It was a chance for the offense and defense to get into rhythm heading into the tough part of their schedule.
Injury Report: Rob Gronkowski’s return to health also coincided with Brady’s return and he posted a 100-yard game. Patriot TEs have been very productive with 3 100-yard games (2 Bennett, 1 Gronk). Bennett suffered an ankle injury on the first drive. I would say 3 touchdowns later that he’s healthy enough to play in Week 6. Bennett gave reporters a very hilarious quote for how he was able to return from the injury and be incredibly productive (6 catches, 67 yards, 3 TD). Marcus Cannon was unable to play with a calf injury and was replaced by Cameron Fleming, who had a very good game and could wind up replacing him since Cannon has been meh at best so far. On defense, Hightower isn’t 100% back, but was healthy enough to make a big play that really started the rout. The biggest injury concerns are managing Gronk and Hightower on each side of the ball.
The Patriots also had injuries with Joe Thuney, LeGarrette Blount, Jimmy Garoppolo, but they were able to go. Thuney had a solid game, Blount struggled, and Garoppolo got to close out the game after Brady was done pillaging the Browns secondary. DT Vincent Valentine was unable to go for the game, although practice squad call-up Woodrow Hamilton had a phenomenal game in his stead. Once Valentine is back, that gives the Patriots 4 DTs that can stop the run by themselves or command double teams in that department.
AFC East Outlook: Perhaps I was too quick to judge the Jets and Bills after their Week 2 showdown. Since then, the Bills have gone 3-0 and the Jets 0-3. While quality of competition has been the Jets problem (they played KC, Seattle, and Pittsburgh, who I all expect to be in the playoffs this year), the Bills also brought a signature win against the Patriots, even though the Patriots played with a stalemate type of offense. The Patriots will get a shot at redemption in Week 8. The Patriots hold a 1-game lead over the Bills, who are the only obstacle between the Patriots and a division title since the Patriots don’t play the Jets and Dolphins until late in the season.
AFC Outlook: With the Broncos losing, the Patriots tie them and the Steelers for the top record in the AFC. The Patriots will get a chance at both teams, starting with the Steelers in Week 7 and the Broncos in Week 15. With the Patriots win over Houston in Week 3, having a head-to-head tiebreaker against the likely division winners. The Patriots will have a tough road to home field advantage. 12 wins will get them a bye, 13 should get them home field advantage.
We’re on to Cincinnati: Remember when Bill Belichick said this? Two years and 10 days ago, those famous words were uttered on loop prior to the Patriots 3-phase win over the Bengals, 43-17. This will be the first game between the two since then. Pro Bowl TE Tyler Eifert may be returning to the game, but the toughest match-ups will be Giovani Bernard in space against a linebacker and AJ Green against whoever he lines up against. For Green, a combination of Logan Ryan underneath and Devin McCourty over the top should be the plan for him. I would expect the Bengals to try to win with the running of Jeremy Hill and Bernard, and force them to pass to Brandon LaFell and the TEs.