This game went pretty much according to what a lot of people expected. With the Browns playing better than many predicted, there was a lot of optimism. Playing the team widely viewed as the NFL's best was a challenge for an up and coming team like the Browns. Obviously, on the scoreboard, the Browns were not up to that challenge. But the score doesn't tell the whole story.
There really isn't a lot to say about the offense. The Browns moved the ball well and had five more first downs than any of the previous New England opponents. The offensive line continued to play fairly well and Braylon Edwards had his third 100-yard game of the season. Despite losing Jamal Lewis and Joe Jurevicius early in the game, the offense did pretty well. Jason Wright did a solid job filling in and to my surprise, Tim Carter actually caught a touchdown.
The story on offense was the three interceptions thrown by Anderson. Take those away and this is likely a very different game. The first one, on third and goal, was a terrible decision. It was thrown into multiple coverage and cost the Browns three points. This was a Charlie Frye-like decision. The second pass was tipped. Some say the ball was forced, but I felt that it was not so much a terrible throw as a good defensive play. The third was a classic "arm hit while throwing" interception. It did not help that Anderson had some pressure in this game, something he has not had to deal with all that often. The Patriots did a good job of using different blitz looks and overloading the line here and there.
The other story was how the Patriots shut down Kellen Winslow for much of the game. Perhaps it was the coverage, perhaps it was his injury, but whatever the case, Winslow didn't look like the same player we've seen this season to date. He came alive a bit down the stretch, but the fumble that made the final score lopsided was unfortunate. Perhaps without the injury, he holds onto that ball. My sense was the Winslow wasn't playing at 100% effort for whatever reason.
Kudos to the offensive line for giving it back to Mike Vrabel for his dirty late hit with 11 seconds left in a game that was not in doubt. Vrabel is no stranger to Browns fans. His late hit on Tim Couch in 1999 allowed the Browns to drive for the winning field goal in a 16-15 win over the Steelers. I was stunned to see that there was no flag on that play.
In years past, the Browns offense has not been able to keep the team in games. You have to be pleased with 22 first downs and playing toe-to-toe with the Pats in terms of most of the offensive stats. But you can't turn the ball over four times against an elite team and hope to win.
The defense mounted zero pass rush, nor did it stop the run when the Patriots were forced to play some backups. Still, the defense overall had one of its better games. Coming into the game, New England had punted five times in their first four games. In this game, the Pats had six punts. The defense also held Brady and company out of the end zone a couple of times.
The defensive line continues to be a disaster, yet, the Browns tried some different tactics with some success. In a surprise move, Ted Washington was inactive, and not due to injury. The Browns played their 4-3 look for a good part of the game, or more correctly, a 2-4-5 look. Robaire Smith made some plays in what was probably his best showing of the year. Simon Fraser also showed some flashes. Beyond that, Orpheus Roye, Shaun Smith, and Ethan Kelley did not show all that much.
Once again, this 2-4-5 look made Willie McGinest and Kamerion Wimbley essentially defensive ends in more of a 4-3 look. Problem is, that allows the outside linebackers to be handled by offensive linemen. The Browns aren't getting off blocks, and they cannot effectively flow to the play. Meanwhile, the middle linebackers were all too often physically manhandled. One of the most telling images of the day was Leon Williams getting shoved backward by a running back. Don't get me wrong, but while there are problems in this linebacking corps, it's hard to criticize them too much when very little is happening to eat up blocks up front. The defensive line is playing so badly that the linebackers have little chance.
In the secondary, it's tough to cover when there is absolutely no pass rush. Still, the Browns held Randy Moss in check. The big problem was covering the tight end. That fell largely to Sean Jones, who did not have his best game. Brodney Pool also left in the first half with an injury. The secondary had its problems, but it might have been much worse.
The biggest problem of the day was yet another game filled with terrible tackling. A miss by Leigh Bodden, for example, led to the first New England touchdown. This has to get fixed.
Scott Player had another solid game filling in for Dave Zastudil. Phil Dawson made his one field goal attempt. As usual, the story of the game was Josh Cribbs who became the all-time kickoff return yardage leader for the Browns. Considering some of the players the Browns have had, such as Bobby Mitchell and Eric Metcalf, that's pretty impressive in just his third year.
The Browns got down 20-0 with some bad plays. It would have been easy to fold. Instead, the Browns played hard right up until the final play. The Patriots did not play their best game, but they took advantage of Cleveland mistakes, as one expects from a top tier team. I liked the fact that Romeo Crennel showed a little fire. And closing to within 10 points twice in the second half, the Browns were not out of the game until the end.
I know I decried moral victories just two weeks ago. Let me be clear -- this game was not a victory in any sense. But unlike the recent past, this was not an effort that was an embarrassment. This game showed that the Browns could make mistakes against a tough opponent and not fold. They even made it competitive. The time will come in the near future when the Browns will manage a mistake-free effort in a game like this and pull the upset.
While there were plenty of problems, there were some things in this game the Browns can build upon as they go forward.
A home trap game against the 0-5 Dolphins. This is a huge test for a still-developing team.
The season is short. Bark hard!