Well that sure was something, and something I wasn't expecting. My buddy asked me before the game if I knew what the line was. I responded saying 10.5, and that I'd put my life savings on the Patriots to cover. Good thing I didn't make a bet, cause the Browns almost pulled off an absolute shocker.
The Browns came just yards short on a Billy Cundiff 58-yard field goal attempt as time expired. The Patriots would go on to win 27-26, but let's take a look at how we got there, cause man, it was wild.
The Browns came out to start the game and actually established a nice rhythm running the football and Jason Campbell got into a groove early finding Jordan Cameron and Greg Little for 14-yard catches each on the opening drive. The Browns would ultimately settle for a field goal on their opening drive, and would take a 3-0 lead after Billy Cundiff's 43-yarder.
On the Patriots second possession of the game D'Qwell Jackson intercepted Tom Brady on third down. The Browns would be set up with decent field position at their own 35-yard line after the interception. The Browns would get into the redzone, but again would settle for a field goal. Cundiff would connect on a 37-yard field goal to give the Browns a 6-0 lead.
For most of the rest of the first half the Patriots and Browns exchanged field position and punts, and the Browns would head into the locker rooms with a 6-0 advantage.
The Browns forced the Patriots to punt on their opening possession of the second half and with just over 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter facing a 3rd-and-8, Jason Campbell hit Davone Bess for 10 yards and the first down. Campbell then connected with Jordan Cameron for 21 more on the next play. Campbell would then find Gary Barnidge for what would go on to be a 40-yard touchdown. There was a flag on the play for Aqib Talib's illegal use of hands to the face on Josh Gordon, which actually appeared to make the defense slow up, and would allow Barnidge to go basically untouched into the endzone. The Browns would then go for two to make it a 2 TD game, but the Chris Ogbonnaya draw play was unsuccessful. The Browns would still be up 12-0.
On the Patriots next possession Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski up the seam for a nice gain and T.J. Ward made the tackle. The tackle was low, right at the knee and Gronk clearly was in pain right away. It's now reported that he has a torn ACL and MCL and will be out for the rest of the year. Ward said that he has been fined 3 times and has "to play within the rules, point blank." Ward wasn't flagged on the play, and that's the right call. It's a tough situation for the players to be in, the league is fining and suspending players for blows to the head, so unfortunately it appears injuries like this may become more prevalent.
Moving forward from that play, on the very next play Paul Kruger sacked Tom Brady and also caused a fumble that was recovered by John Hughes. Unfortuantely for the Browns they couldn't make anything happen on the ensuing drive, but it was nice to see Paul Kruger finally get in on the action.
The Patriots next drive would stall out at the Browns 15-yard line. On third down, Barkevious Mingo appeared to pressure Tom Brady which forced a bad pass to Shane Vereen, making the Pats settle for a field goal. The Patriots would get on the board with a Stephen Gostkowski 33-yard field goal to make the score 12-3 in favor of the Browns.
The very next play offensively for the Browns was a quick slant from Campbell to Gordon who stiff-armed Aqib Talib and was then off to the races. The play would go as an 80-yard touchdown pass and catch, and the Browns would take a 19-3 lead. Enough cannot be said about Josh Gordon. Talib is considered one of the better corners in the league, and Gordon flat out shredded him on Sunday.
The Patriots would get the ball back with a 1:19 left in the third quarter. Brady would hit Shane Vereen on the first play of the drive for 50 yards, he'd then connect with Vereen for a 16-yard catch, and Vereen would then cap off the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run. The drive for the Patriots would last exactly 1 minute. The two pass plays on the drive exposed one of the biggest weaknesses in the Browns defense, and that's linebackers in coverage, specifically Craig Robertson. Robertson got absolutely worked that drive, single handedly by Shane Vereen. The Patriots would go for two and get it to cut the Browns lead to 19-11.
After another Paul Kruger sack on third down midway through the third quarter, the Patriots would be forced to kick another field goal. Gostkowski would hit again, this time from 50-yards. The field goal would pull the Pats within 5, but the Browns were still clinging to a 19-14 lead.
The next possession for the Browns was a wild one. Campbell got off to a good start hitting Cameron for 13 yards. The Browns then ran an end-around for Josh Gordon for 34 yards. There was then a suspect intentional grounding call on Campbell. A catch by Josh Gordon for 19 yards, which New England challenged, but ultimately the play was upheld. Ultimately Campbell would find Jordan Cameron in the endzone for a 4-yard touchdown to cap off an 8 play, 80 yard drive, in just over 3 minutes. Campbell was impressive on the drive, going 4-for-5 for 52 yards and the TD pass. The drive would put the Browns ahead 26-14.
Naturally with over 2 minutes to play and down just two scores, the Patriots were never out of the game. Tom Brady quickly went to work, starting right where he left off, finding Shane Vereen on the first play of the drive. Brady only hit Vereen and Julian Edelman on the drive, each caught 4 balls, and Edelman found the endzone from 2 yards out. Jordan Poyer was also penalized for targeting a defenseless receiver, which in my opinion was a terrible call. The penalty would be enforced on the ensuing kickoff, which as we came to find out, would be costly.
With the Patriots down 5, the onside kick was coming. With the penalty, the Patriots actually kicked off from the 50-yard line, which meant the ball had to get to 40-yard line before the Patriots could touch it. That proved to be all for naught, as Fozzy Whitaker touched the ball before it went 10 yards making it a live ball, and the Patriots were able to recover. Fitting that the CBS broadcast had to show the last time the Patriots recovered an onside kick, which was against the Browns in the 1994 AFC Championship game. Before Sunday's onside recovery, the Patriots hadn't recovered an onside kick in 330 games. Thanks, CBS.
The Patriots would have a short field to work with, starting at the Cleveland 40-yard line with exactly a minute to play. Brady would find Danny Amendola for 10 yards on first down. Then on second down was one of the worst calls I've ever seen.
The coverage was tight and the ball was just out of the reach of Josh Boyce, but the ref threw the flag for defensive pass interference. Looking back at the replay I am still STUNNED that the ref threw the flag. Throughout the internet, TV and radio, the consensus seems to be the same, that was a bad call.
Do I think that was DPI in New England? No.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) December 8, 2013
By rule since the foul occurred in the endzone, the Patriots got the ball at the Browns 1-yard line. Brady would then hit Danny Amendola for the 1-yard touchdown catch. The Browns would stuff the Pats two-point conversion attempt and would be down 27-26.
Cleveland got the ball back with 31 seconds left and no timeouts. After a few nice passes, Campbell was able to hit Jordan Cameron for 13 yards down to the New England 40-yard line. The Browns spiked the ball with 1 second on the clock. Billy Cundiff would come on to try a career-long 58-yard field goal. In fitting Cleveland fashion, the kick was just short, and the Browns would lose by 1. Oof.
- For a cold New England December day, Sunday's game was an aerial attack. On a Sunday in which we saw multiple inches of snow on the grounds in other Eastern cities, Foxborough was an all out passing attack by both sides.
As has been the case now for 6-straight weeks, the Browns surprisingly outgained the Patriots by posting almost 500 yards of offense (494 yards).
Jason Campbell did his best Tom Brady impersonation on Sunday. Campbell finished the day 29-for-44 (66%), 391 yards, and 3 TD, 0 INT.
For comparison's sake, Tom Brady posted 32-for-52 (62%), 418 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT. Obviously there's no comparison between Campbell and Brady, but watching them sling it around Sunday was a lot of fun.
The Browns again went over the 100-yard rushing mark, but again it was deceptive. Josh Gordon had a 34-yard end around, and Jason Campbell had scrambles of 21 and 6 yards.
Subtracting the Gordon rush, and Campbell's rushes, the Browns running backs posted the following numbers Sunday: 22 carries for 47 yards (2.1 YPC) and no touchdowns. This was against a Patriots defense that has been decimated by injuries, so the rushing attack continues to be a concern.
First Downs and Conversions:
In recent weeks we've seen the Browns third down conversion percentage see a bit of uptick. Last week the Browns were 6-for-13 (46%). This week they were 7-for-15 (46%). So while they converted one additional third down, their percentage stayed the same.
If the Browns continue to stay near 50% on third down, their chances of winning increase exponentially. Denver currently sits #1 in the NFL at 48.2 %, so over the past two games to be at 46% is solid for the Browns.
Last week the Jaguars converted on 44% of their third downs against the Browns. This week the Patriots were 6-for-15 (40%). That's still above the Patriots season percentage which going into sunday was 36%. The Browns still need to improve their third down defense.
Miller's Random Observations:
Josh Gordon - Gordon has been the talk of the league the past few weeks. Over the last 4 games he has 774 yards receiving, a record for that span. He also now leads the NFL in receiving yards with 1,400 yards, even though he was suspended the first two games. He's been incredible to watch recently, and his line from Sunday is becoming a regular thing: 7 receptions, 151 yards, 1 TD. He also chipped in a 34-yard rush.
Jordan Cameron - The nice thing about Josh Gordon's ability to stretch the field, is that it opens up even more space for Jordan Cameron to go to work. Cameron has been solid all season, but hadn't found the endzone since Week 7 against Green Bay, which he did so Sunday. Cameron put up 90+ yards in 3 of his first 4 games this season, but Sunday was the first time since that first stretch that he eclipsed 90+ yards. Sunday also marked the first 100-yard game for Cameron since Week 1. As I mentioned he's been solid, but hadn't had a huge game for some time, so it was nice to see him breakout again.
(Lack Of) Turnovers - The Browns didn't turn the ball over on Sunday, and the improvements were evident. When the Browns have turned the ball over, it's been a struggle for them to stay in games. They didn't turn it over on Sunday and were right there with one of the best teams in the league, on the road. The Browns also forced 2 turnovers, picking off Brady once, and forcing him to fumble once as well. There were some errors and miscues, but limiting turnovers has been a priority for this offense, and it was nice to see them do just that for a change.
Shane Vereen - With very little time left in the third quarter, the Patriots finally started to work Shane Vereen into the passing attack. After he capped off a VERY quick drive with a 6-yard TD run, I turned to my buddy and said "It was only matter of time before they realized how terrible Craig Robertson is in coverage." Which is a sad reality. Robertson has been picked apart all season, and this being his first game back in 3 weeks was no different. Vereen would go on to post 12 catches for 153 yards, which he picked up 10 catches for 141 yards in the second half alone. With Gronkowski out, Vereen became the difference maker in the second half.
Pass Rush - I've been critical of the front-seven's inability to get a good pass rush in recent weeks. Sunday they showed some signs of life finally, Paul Kruger specifically. Playing against a guy like Brady, it's imperative to get pressure on him, because if he's able to stand back there comfortably, he'll pick you apart. The Browns totaled 4 sacks on the day; Kruger had 2, and Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard each chipped in 1. The front-seven also added 6 QB hits. The Browns still gave up 400+ yards passing, but they did get some pressure on Brady which should give them some confidence going forward.
I personally didn't think the Browns stood a chance going into Foxborough. I was pleasantly surprised to see them fight the way they did. It ended up being another crushing loss, but the Browns have to be pleased with how they played on the road, against one of the best teams in the league.
It's tough to pin a loss on the refs, but the pass interference call at the end of the game flat out decided the game. There's no telling what could've happened had the Browns been able to play it out. Instead, Tom Brady was given the ball at the 1-yard line and the game was pretty much decided.
I loved seeing the team never quit thought and working the ball far enough down field to give Cundiff a chance. I'd make the argument that kicking a football 58 yards in 30 degree weather is incredibly difficult, and it is, like kicking a brick. But, when you see Matt Prater belt a 64-yarder in 15 degree weather, it makes it that much harder to swallow. (I know, it's all about the altitude.)
Either way, the Browns battled when no one (myself included) gave them a chance. It was a gutsy effort that unfortunately fell just short. The Browns will now look to snap a 4-game losing streak at home this weekend against the Bears.
ESPN stats were used in the compilation of the charts in this article.