Sometimes, in the NFL, what pundits expect to happen actually happens.
The Patriots won in what has become standard fashion for the undefeated club, scoring over thirty points for the fifth time in five games. Bill Belichick's team played relatively mistake-free football, controlled the line of scrimmage, and helped force three first-half interceptions by Derek Anderson. Overall, the Patriots converted four Browns turnovers (three interceptions and a late fumble by Kellen Winslow) into three touchdowns, which provided the margin of victory.
The Patriots dominance was particularly notable on offense as the Patriots offensive line pushed around the Browns defensive line, which was missing the 400 pounds of mass that the inactive Ted Washington normally brings to bear. Beaten at the line of scrimmage, the Browns were unable to mount an effective pass rush on Tom Brady, as head coach Romeo Crennel largely eschewed the blitz and relied on the natural pressure provided by the line. There wasn't any. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady finished 22-of-38 for 265 yards and no interceptions.
With plenty of time to throw throughout the first half, Brady was able to drive the Patriots into the red zone repeatedly in the first thirty minutes of play, converting touchdowns on a 34-yard pass to Donte Stallworth in the first quarter, and on a seven-yard strike to Ben Watson with a minute left in the half. Twice prior to halftime, Brady was able to drive the Patriots offense inside the five, but was denied the ability to put the game out of reach by a resilient Cleveland red zone defense, which forced the Patriots to kick short field goals of 20 and 25 yards.
Going up against one of the NFL's top defenses, the Browns were able to move the ball at times against the Patriots. After New England's opening march to a field goal, Anderson and the Browns returned the favor, driving downfield to a first-and-goal at the one yard line. At that point, however, an incomplete pass and a Jason Wright run for no gain put the Browns in a third-and-goal situation. Flushed from the pocket as he dropped to pass on third down, Anderson rolled right and tried to force a pass to TE Steve Heiden. The pass was knocked into the air by Patriots DB Asante Samuel and picked off by likely Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau for a touchback. The Patriots offense then took the ball eighty yards, culminating in the touchdown pass to Stallworth.
After pushing to a 20-0 lead at halftime, the Patriots were less effective in the third quarter, as the Browns stiffened against the run, and put together a couple of offensive drives. An eight-play 56-yard drive in the in the third quarter yielded a Phil Dawson field goal, and Anderson took advantage of a poor Chris Hanson punt to drive the Browns another 55 yards as the fourth quarter started, which resulted in a 21-yard touchdown to Tim Carter, bringing the score to 20-10.
After the Browns closed to within ten after the score, Brady and the Patriots mounted a workman-like drive of 71 yards, resulting in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Watson, his second touchdown reception of the day.
The Browns closed the margin to ten yet again with just under six minutes left in the game thanks to a 14-yard touchdown pass from Anderson to Winslow. After kicking the ball back to the Patriots, the Browns offense could only watch helplessly as the Patriots efficiently burned five minutes off the clock, again taking the ball inside the Brown five yard line.
Up by ten with a minute left, the Patriots failed to score on four attempts into the end zone. Anderson, throwing from the shotgun in his end zone, hit Kellen Winslow with a ten yard pass, but Winslow fumbled. The fumble was picked up by Randall Gay and run back 15 yards for a Patriots touchdown, putting the game effectively out of reach at 34-17.
RUNNING AWAY: Once more, the Browns allowed nearly five yards per carry by the opposing team's feature back, as Sammy Morris rolled up 102 yards on 21 carries for a 4.9 average. Overall, the Patriots gained 147 yards on the ground.
WOUNDED WARRIORS: The Browns left Gillette Stadium banged up. Leigh Bodden and Daven Holly were both tended to by Browns trainers on the field, but returned. Joe Jurevicius (knee), Jamal Lewis (foot) and Brodney Pool were all knocked from the game.
INACTIVES: Browns inactives: Dave Zastudil, Ted Washington, Gary Baxter, Jerome Harrison, Isaac Sowells, Travis Wilson, Ken Dorsey (3rd QB). Pats inactives: Rashad Baker, Wesley Britt, Kareem Brown, Chad Brown, Dan Koppen, Laurence Maroney, S. Thomas. Matt Gutierrez (3rd QB)