December 5, 2004
Browns vs. Patriots
At Cleveland Browns Stadium, Patriots WIN, 42-15
By Scott A. Benson

Butch Davis may be all done in Cleveland, but the mistakes by the lake remain.

That was welcome news for the visiting Patriots today, as the defending champions took advantage of four turnovers to dismantle the woeful Browns in a 42-15 game that was over, in all essence, before Cleveland had even touched the ball.

Bethel Johnson痴 remarkably easy 94 yard return of the opening kickoff gave the Patriots an immediate 7-0 lead and placed a pair of shiny new roller skates on a Browns team that had already been careening wildly downhill for most of the decade.

From there, New England controlled the clock and the game by rushing for 225 yards against a defense that has now given up 110 points in its last eight quarters. The Pats success on the ground (50 carries and 3 touchdowns) masked a curiously awkward and uncomfortable struggle throughout by their usually reliable passing attack.

On defense, it was about what you expected when the Browns announced on Wednesday that rookie Luke 塑et Another� McCown would start at quarterback. They hounded him from the beginning with repeated blitzes, which continued even after the Pats led by five touchdowns. When the rookie turned to his running game for relief, it led only to more agony for the reeling Browns.

The game story can be written with these simple words: Rohan Davey entered the game with 1:56 to play in the 3rd quarter.

A final thought: is facing all these struggling teams at the end of the season necessarily such a good thing for the 11-1 Patriots? I noticed a few sloppy, less-than-edgy moments today � three turnovers by the offense, a ridiculous two-play, 93 yard drive given up by the (albeit second-team) defense � and I wonder if it might be mixed blessing that the 2-10 Dolphins and the 1-11 Forty-Niners are half of the remaining schedule.

No disrespect intended to anybody, that is.

Patriots on Offense

Corey Dillon took his opening carry straight up the gut of the Browns defense for 21 yards, and he dominated the game thereafter, until leaving late in the 2nd quarter with another minor leg injury. In all, he had gained 98 yards (5.7 a carry) and scored twice.

In two consecutive scoring drives midway through the first half, the Pats went to Dillon 11 times, and he finished both with the now-familiar short TD blasts that resemble nothing short of rib-breaking body blows. Shortly after, he was done for the afternoon.

Sort of. Later, apparently OK, he returned for a 3rd quarter cameo to crack the 100 yard mark for the seventh time this year.

The Pats were able to rest Dillon thanks to a solid effort by his backups. Kevin Faulk spelled him with 13 carries, finishing with 80 yards and a slashing 3rd quarter 10 yard TD run. Dillon痴 absence also prompted the first extended action for sixth round pick Cedric Cobbs, who predictably struggled (1.8 a carry on 16 tries, and a late fumble) but showed a flash here and there. It was a day carried by all of the Patriots running backs.

That was a good thing, considering that Tom Brady and the Pats receivers could do very little against the defense that was last seen giving up four touchdown passes to Carson Palmer.

It was a rough go for Brady from the start, due in large part to a surprisingly good Cleveland pass rush led by Kenard Lang (2 sacks). Brady痴 fumble on a Lang sack stalled the Pats first possession at the Cleveland 35 (Dan Koppen recovered, and the Pats punted), and when Dillon immediately fumbled to begin the next drive, the Pats offense left the field looking harried.

They brought it back from there, mostly behind Dillon痴 strong running but also thanks to two key plays by their quarterback. Brady kick started the Pats third possession with a 10 yard scramble on 3rd and 4 from the Pats 11. The Pats stayed on the ground, and behind Dillon, Faulk and Cobbs advanced to the Cleveland 36. On first down, the Browns bit for Brady痴 sharp play action and left Christian Fauria running free for a 25 yard gain to the Cleveland 11.

In two plays the Pats were in, and on their next drive, it was Brady痴 bomb to David Patten that drew pass interference at the Cleveland 5, setting up the second of Dillon痴 TD痴 and a 21 point lead. In the process, they had driven for 95 and 72 yards.

The Pats offense came back in the third with another 70 yard touchdown drive (Faulk, behind the left side of the offensive line) and just 90 seconds later (after a Steve Heiden fumble) Brady hit Patten with a beautifully thrown 44 yard touchdown pass to make it 42-7.

You can稚 say Brady doesn稚 complete the long ones anymore, can you? Some days, it痴 all he completes.

While I知 on the subject , I値l just say it: it just seemed downright odd to see the New England Patriots throwing 44 yard scoring passes when leading a last place team by four touchdowns. That痴 all I知 saying. Just odd.

Still, it was an uplifting way from Brady to end a difficult day, typified by a lousy out pattern to David Givens that was intercepted by Lewis Sanders as the Pats tried to drive for a field goal in the first half痴 final seconds.

Joe Andruzzi left the game for a short time with a leg injury (a lot of that going around) but returned to play later. The Pats offensive line, always known as a pass blocking unit, has (with Dillon痴 arrival) been remade as voracious, road grading, killing machine, of a sort. Just goes to show you, I guess.

Patriots on Defense

They were all over their second McCown in four months. Cade, for the love of Mike (there isn稚 a Mike, is there?), take cover.

Predictably, the Pats pressured the young quarterback into mistakes that would become his undoing, sending blitzers all afternoon (three sacks and several pressures) while removing any hope for a running game. Rodney Harrison痴 juggling interception at the Pats 5 stunted Browns hopes after Dillon痴 early fumble, effectively snuffing out the Browns only chance to make a game of it. Harrison痴 pick set up the Pats 95 yard drive and before long, New England led by three touchdowns.

Early in the second half, more ball hawking and stout defense took the lead from 祖omfortable� to 素reaking luxurious�, when Richard Seymour forced a William Green fumble on 3rd and short, which was picked up by Randall Gay at the Cleveland 41. Once he shook off Willie McGinest (the only guy who seemed to be trying to tackle him) Gay weaved cross country before nose diving into the end zone for his first (and probably not last) professional touchdown.

That made the score 28-7. After a quick Browns three and out, the Pats offense drove for another seven.

About six minutes later, the Pats D was at it again. After McCown had hit Heiden for a first down at the Cleveland, Dexter Reid forced a fumble that was recovered by Eugene Wilson. A minute later, the Pats lead was 42-7, and if Terry Robiske if was weighing the pros and cons of being a 叢layers coach� at that moment, you wouldn稚 have blamed him.

Despite their success today, there were a few sloppy moments that leave a slightly bitter aftertaste, kind of like cranberry juice. There was the inexplicable 70 yard, 1:17 drive by the Browns to close the first half, ending in a strange deflected pass for touchdown, and then the inexcusable two-play, 93 yard drive in the fourth, when Dennis Northcutt and Antonio Bryant got deep and wide open on successive plays (Bryant a 40 yard score, his second of the day). To make matters worse, McCown then hit an open Heiden for a successful two point play.

Let痴 close on an up note. Time is drawing close (we hope) to the dual return of Ty Law and Tyrone Poole, and they are going to find that rookies like Gay and Reid, and veterans like two-way star Troy Brown (now leads Charles Woodson by two interceptions), have set the bar pretty high in their absence.

Patriots on Special Teams

Boffo ratings for any game where you return a kick for a touchdown, much less on the opening kickoff. Bethel Johnson took the directional kick to his left, but quickly slanted across the field until he found himself virtually alone down the right sideline. He went in untouched and must have utterly deflated the Browns right out of the chute.

Johnson has struggled this year with rare returns across his own 40, but his burst today recalled the lightning strikes of his rookie season.

I知 still trying to figure out why the Patriots, leading 21-0 in the 2nd quarter, went for it on 4th down from the Cleveland 30. Adam Vinatieri was on the field but the Pats called time out and brought back the offense for a lackluster Patrick Pass attempt on 4th down. No big deal, but I noticed.

Patriots on the Sidelines

That aside, another solid week here, as the Pats managed to avoid the dreaded 奏rap game�. Listen, when their opponents are allowed to set actual traps on the field, like bear traps, then I値l worry about a 奏rap game� for this bunch.

I値l say it again: a 44 yard bomb when you池e up by 28? I知 not saying it痴 bad, just strange. I thought for a minute that Ron Borges had actually gotten his wish and Tony Dungy was coaching the Patriots.

Patriots Next Week

Home again for (thankfully) another 1 PM tilt with the 6-6 Cincinnati Bengals (winners over Baltimore today). I have the vaguest recollection of an August beat down in the Queen City. It was just a pre-season game, but still.