I can't say that I expected more, because my prediction for the game was only three points off for both teams. The encouraging (while discouraging at the same time) factors of the game made this loss harder to swallow though, because it was no where near the "garbage" we saw Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns went in to New England and gave the Patriots a "respectable" effort in the sense that the Browns were the team that shot themselves in the foot. It started right on the team's first offensive drive of the game, one that certainly could have changed the entire tempo of the game.
Another road loss brings out the goats that made the final score possible, followed by a couple of stars that shined...
Goats of the Game (Crawl to the Corner and Hide)
- Derek Anderson: Believe me, the love fest for Mr. Anderson still exists here, and he kept the Browns competitive in the second half. However, as we found out against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2, if you're going to play in a shootout, you have to be flawless. Anderson made a Charlie Frye-like decision on the first offensive possession of the game, throwing an interception into triple coverage from the one-yard line. Anderson's aggressive throws will result in some great touchdowns, but it can also change the entire tempo of the game as it did in this case. Believe it or not, had we scored instead, a better decision could've kept us even with New England until the end of the game.
- Leigh Bodden: With Anderson, I stressed how one play will change the complexion of the game. In the second half though, the Browns still had a slight chance to rally back due to some uncharacteristic misthrows from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. On a crucial third-down play late in the game, Bodden came up and quickly hit Patriots receiver Wes Welker for what appeared to be a minimal gain, short of the first down. After a remarkable effort from Welker, he was able to stay off the ground and dive close to the first-down marker, making the decision easier for the Patriots to go for it on fourth-down. Credit Welker for the great effort, and credit Bodden for making the initial hit, but we desperately needed Bodden to finish what he started.
Awarding Game Balls (Showing Up in Defeat)
- Jason Wright: I think it's quite ridiculous when after Wright broke a couple of nice plays against the Patriots, a few people actually started to say that he was doing a better job that Jamal Lewis had been doing. Lewis has been a significant upgrade over Reuben Droughns and has been a major contributor in both of our victories. Backup running backs are expected to fill in well if the blocking schemes and play calling are well, and that's what happened with Wright. My only knock on him at the moment is that he does not look fluent on screen plays.
- Tim Carter: It wasn't a big day for Carter, but it was definitely his best game since coming to the Browns. He saw a few more throws come his way due to the injury to Joe Jurevicius, and he took advantage with 3 catches for 50 yards and 1 touchdown. His touchdown grab came on a 21-yard diving catch in the final quarter of play.
- "5 Mississippi...6 Miss...": Any quarterback in the league was kill for the amount of protection that Brady had against the Browns' pathetic defensive rush. Good blocking teams are supposed to prevent teams from getting sacks or a big hit on their quarterback. Any good blocking team is still vulnerable to allowing some pressures to the quarterback though, because it's nearly impossible to keep the opposing team's defensive linemen and linebackers in check for four quarters. That wasn't true for the Browns. None of our guys even came close to Brady, who had at least five seconds to throw the ball on every pass of the game in which he chose to hang onto the ball that long.
- What Do You Expect?: (Continuation from first bullet) It seems that Todd Grantham minimizes the blitzing in his playcalling to ensure that the young secondary isn't forced into man-to-man coverage on a regular basis. However, if you give a quarterback more than five seconds in the pocket without any pressure, the damage is actually worse for the secondary. That was the case on Donte Stallworth's touchdown at the end of the first quarter. Brady finally found Stallworth across the field after several seconds, and by then, the veteran receiver was able to find the lane that could defeat our secondary.
- Worse Than Pool: The Browns were completely burned by Patriots tight end Ben Watson, as he rumbled for two touchdowns. A big one came after safety Brodney Pool was taken off the field due to injury in the fourth quarter. New England attacked backup safety Mike Adams for pretty much the clinching touchdown. Any chance we can bring Justin Hamilton back instead of signing a Louis Leonard? Maybe we won't have to worry about that much longer if Gary Baxter's health improves.
- Cracking Winslow: After Sunday's loss, I saw a few complaints about Winslow's "performance" on gameday. There were three "mis-executed" plays in which Winslow were involved in: a pass earlier in the game where he couldn't hang onto the ball; a pass that missed Winslow's hands completely by about a foot later in the game, and Winslow's fumble near the end. In my opinion, the only one in which he can be blamed for is the fumble. Anderson's pass was high in the first case, and the Patriots' defender tipped the ball before Winslow could secure it. On the second case, Anderson's pass had an ugly spin on it, which seemed to confuse Winslow's sense of perception of where the ball was heading.
- Fullback-esque: Did anyone get the annoying feeling when the Browns passed the ball in the flat to tight end Steve Heiden twice during the game? Heiden clearly is not a stop-and-go receiver, and both times his number was called, the plays reminded me of the painful throws we would see last year to fullback Terrelle Smith in the flat. Those plays should be thrown out of the playbook for Heiden, unless the play is second-and-short or something and he is merely an extra option for Anderson.
- Missing Lewis: I made Anderson a "goat", mainly due to his costly interception on the first drive. Anderson may not have been forced into any tough decision if Jamal Lewis hadn't hurt his foot though. Does anyone doubt that the Browns would've run the ball twice in a row with him, and executed on at least one of the plays? While Wright was good, he lacks the power game that Lewis provides.
- Welcome Back, Tucker: What was the point of putting Ryan Tucker in for a few series against the Patriots if Kevin Shaffer was fine? Shaffer has been doing a very good job at right tackle this year, and wasn't showing many signs of weakness this past Sunday. Crennel wanted to give Tucker some work, but that should only happen if the Browns are in full command of a game or if someone goes out with an injury. The move didn't pay off either, as Tucker was the reasoning for Anderson's arm being hit on his third interception of the first half.
- One-Handed Stab: Everything has changed with Braylon Edwards this year. He's making normal catches. He's making elite catches. He's saying positive things to the media. Dare I say it, the third-year receiver has matured into a leader on the Browns. His highlight against the Patriots came on a great one-handed pull-in near the sidelines. With the Browns losing by more than one possession at the time though, I had no clue why Romeo Crennel was smiling big time after Bill Belichick's challenge failed to hold up.
- Thanks, Scott: Everyone calls him Player, but where's the love for his first name, "Scott"? In what was probably his last game as a Cleveland Brown, Scott had another consistent outing punting the ball, although he didn't do a great job of preventing touchbacks in a few cases.
- Moss in Check: For the third time in a row, the Browns kept receiver Randy Moss in check. In the end, that means absolutely nothing when Brady simply used Stallworth and Watson instead.
- Defensive Positioning: I don't get it. Week after week, I see quarterbacks from around the league make some bad decisions at times where they try to find a receiver amidst three defenders. However, when a quarterback faces the Browns, it seems like we not only have only one defender near a receiver, but they are providing them with a significant cushion. Call it "bend but don't break", but it's beginning to annoy the hell out of me. I want to see some game-changing plays from our defense; if they can't do it by rushing the quarterback, they need to do it through interceptions.
- Brownies: At least the Browns weren't tarnished by the media after Sunday's loss in which we failed to cover the 16-point spread. In fact, most of the media seemed to re-iterate the fact that the Browns are still a team to be reckoned with. That's the payoff for not rolling over in the second half. The Browns gave up a 100 yards to the opposing team's starting running back for the fifth straight week this season. Defensive linemen Robaire Smith continues to make big short-yardage plays by stuffing the opposing team's running back. Finally, what was with Junior Seau's odd stretch of the football after his second interception?