Following the Browns' impressive victory over the Ravens a week ago, head coach Romeo Crennel's suddenly-confident team appeared capable of beating at least 10 of the 12 opponents remaining on their regular-season schedule. Unfortunately, the potent New England Patriots were not among the majority.
So just when you envisioned the Browns being primed to go on an impressive roll, coach Bill Belichick's boys, who never seem to take any opponent lightly, derailed the Browns' potent offense and continued their impressive early-season demolition of all comers with a 34-17 victory.
The Patriots obviously didn't fall into the trap which was opened by the fact they were coming off a short week and facing an opponent that has not had much success in recent years. They built up a 20-0 halftime then held off a valiant second half comeback by the never-say-die Browns, who put together a game effort despite the fact they lost both running back Jamal Lewis (foot) and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius (knee) to first half injuries.
Maybe the Patriots lost a little interest in the second half, but the Browns did not. They gave 100 percent the whole game despite the score and the long odds after falling behind by 20.
It's now five weeks and five lopsided victories for the Patriots. Amazingly, Sunday's 17-point margin was their closest game of the year despite playing some of what were expected to be the AFC's toughest foes in the New York Jets, San Diego and Cincinnati. The Patriots are quickly proving to one and all that spy camera or not, they are going to be a strong contender for the Super Bowl.
The visiting Browns, meanwhile, got a first-hand look at just how far they have to go before they can be grouped with the AFC elite.
In some ways, they might not be all that far away. In other areas, it's a country mile.
The most glaring difference in the two teams on Sunday was in the protection given the respective quarterbacks. Patriots signal-caller Tom Brady had enough time to sit back, have a bowl of clam chowder, check out the cheerleaders, survey the entire field, then calmly deliver a perfect pass to the wide receiver of his choice.
It's easy for Browns fans to blame rookie Eric Wright, or Leigh Bodden, or Daven Holly for not having better coverage, but the fact of the matter is the defensive linemen are the true villains. They got absolutely no pressure on Brady, who came into the game with a league-high 13 touchdown passes while completing nearly 80 percent of his passes. He left the game with a clean uniform.
By halftime against the Browns, he had already added two more scoring passes while completing 13-of-18 (72 percent) for 150 yards. He added another touchdown in the fourth quarter after the Browns had cut the margin to 20-10, meaning he now has at least three touchdown passes in all five games this year.
Browns quarterback Derek Anderson, meanwhile, often didn't have time to blink. He was constantly pressured by the NFL's top-ranked defense. Before intermission, he had been sacked once and had thrown three killer interceptions, including one in the end zone to end the Browns' first drive of the day. He threw his second interception when he tried to force the ball into Jurevicius, while the third pick was the direct result of his getting hit as he threw.
The Patriots turned those three interceptions into 14 points and for all intents and purposes seemed to have the game wrapped up by halftime.
The Browns have shown they have the talent to be productive offensively when Anderson has time to throw. Nobody knows that better than Belichick, who took Anderson out of his comfort zone by showing several blitz packages. When things did get somewhat tight in the second half, he threw everything but the kitchen sink at the slow-footed Anderson.
As if the Pats' pass rush wasn't enough to overcome, the loss of Lewis after just one run definitely hindered the Browns.
Trailing 13-0 late in the first half, I applauded offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's decision to stick with the original game plan and stay on the ground. Second-year man Jason Wright took over for Lewis and was not only picking some nice yardage, but he also was allowing the defense to get some much-needed rest.
But when the clock reached two minutes and the team still needed about 25 or 30 yards to get into Phil Dawson's field goal range, Anderson dropped back to pass, was hit and had his wounded duck picked off by ageless Junior Seau, who had earlier picked off Anderson in the end zone.
Three plays later, New England was in the end zone again. Instead of trailing 13-0, 13-3 or 13-7 at halftime, the Browns found themselves down by 20 to a rock-solid team that has taken no prisoners this season.
To Crennel's credit, he didn't let his players hang their heads and sleepwalk through the second half. When Anderson had time, he was able to move the team. And defensively, aside from one blown pass coverage in the fourth quarter, they pretty much kept the uninspired Patriots bottled up.
The last-minute, 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Randall Gay made the final score a bit deceptive.
Despite the loss, which drops their record to 2-3, the Browns are in position to have a solid season. They conclude the pre-bye portion of their schedule next Sunday against the struggling Miami Dolphins, then come off the break on Oct. 28 against the weak St. Louis Rams.
If the Browns can emulate the Patriots by giving their quarterback some time, show an improved pass rush and not take any of their upcoming opponents lightly, an above-.500 season is not out of the question.