The story goes that a boy came home one day carrying a football and looking forlorn. His father asked him how his team did and the kid replied, "We were doing great. Then the big kids got out of school."
Well, the big kids were getting out of school and would be waiting for the upstart Browns in Week 5. New England hadn't even sniffed defeat in steamrolling to a 4-0 record. The Patriots had outscored their opponents, 148-48, and had tallied at least 34 points in every game.
NFL teams are not supposed to be frightened of a foe, but this one was downright scary. The addition of Randy Moss to an already potent receiving corps and the continued brilliance of quarterback Tom Brady combined to make the New England offense overpowering.
Browns linebacker Willie McGinest knew all about the Patriots' talent and mystique. He was part of it for many years. But he also knew that his current team couldn't play scared.
"We don't go into a game saying ‘We can't beat these guys,'" McGinest explained to the News-Herald. "Any given Sunday, any team can win. Guys are confident. We've been working hard. Nothing happens until you play the game.
"They're probably the best team in football. The coaches did a good job getting us ready and telling us what to expect. Everything you can see is evident on film. They don't make a lot of mistakes. They play aggressively for 60 minutes. They're a tough team to beat, especially at home."
Another man representing the Orange and Brown who had enjoyed success with the Patriots was head coach Romeo Crennel. The former New England defensive coordinator, who most often downplays the critical nature of one game, expressed his feeling that a victory would not only boost the Browns in the standings, but also provide tremendous confidence.
"Generally, there's a game you can look back on and say it was a game that got you over the hump," Crennel told the assembled media. "Everyone knows they're one of the better teams in the NFL. It would give the players some confidence to know they can play with anybody. Hopefully, we'll be able to build on it going down the road for the rest of the season."
The Browns indeed played tougher than did the Patriots' first four foes. But they still ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
You must contain Randy Moss to beat the Patriots. But you don't beat the Patriots just because you contain Randy Moss.
The Browns discovered that on this Sunday afternoon in Foxborough. They held the explosive receiver to a season-low three catches and no touchdowns.
So what happened? Little-known Ben Watson exploded for six receptions, 107 yards and two touchdowns as New England rolled merrily along with a 34-17 victory.
It all started quite nicely offensively as the Browns marched deep into Patriots territory, but quarterback Derek Anderson unloaded one of his three first-half interceptions. New England had opened the scoring on a 20-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, then stretched it to 10-0 on a 34-yard scoring strike from prolific quarterback Tom Brady to Donte' Stallworth.
Gostkowski made it 13-0 in the second quarter and Watson hauled in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Brady to shove the lead out to 20-0.
By that time, the Browns were hurting physically and emotionally. They lost featured running back Jamal Lewis to an injured foot on the first offensive play of the game and possession receiver Joe Jurevicius was sidelined with a knee injury.
Yet the Browns came out slugging in the second half. While the defense was putting the clamps on the Patriots, they inched back into the game on a 42-yard field goal by Phil Dawson in the third quarter and a 21-yard touchdown pass from Anderson to Tim Carter 50 seconds into the fourth.
You don't keep New England down for long. Brady widened the gap to 27-10 on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Watson less than five minutes later, but the Browns answered on a 14-yard scoring flip from Anderson to tight end Kellen Winslow with six minutes remaining in the game. But his team could slide no closer. The Patriots iced it on a 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Randall Gay.
Anderson finished with 287 yards passing to go along with his two second-half touchdowns. His primary receiver was Braylon Edwards, who registered six catches for 110 yards.
Meanwhile, the Patriots kept the Browns honest by running the ball effectively. Sammy Morris rushed for 102 yards on 21 carries. In the end, the Browns finished with four turnovers to none for New England. And that was one reason for their frustration as they dressed in the locker room and addressed the media after the game.
Football is a game of momentum. And the Browns could have snagged in and run with it against powerful New England if only they had cashed in on an early drive.
But on the doorstep of the end zone, Derek Anderson attempted a tough pass against his body. The ball was tipped and picked off by Junior Seau. Two interceptions later the Browns were down 20-0, far too large a deficit to realistically hope for a victory against the Patriots.
And that frustrated Browns receiver Braylon Edwards.
"You hear all week about them being unbeatable, and this and that, about David vs. Goliath and all these things you hear," Edwards told the Canton Repository. "We knew what we could do. (The drive) provided confidence for us, and then not to score on that and turn the ball over is deflating. It's two or three steps in the wrong direction."
Overall, the Browns appeared to be headed in the right direction. But Edwards was looking for more.
"We're very inconsistent right now," he added. "We win one, we lose one. We play a good half, we play a bad half. We've got to somehow get this together. Today our defense played well for us. They played against a high-powered offense, and we hurt them. ... This loss can be contributed to the offense. We put them in bad situations time and time again."
And that was a shame for the Browns, who contained wide receiver Randy Moss more effectively than had any team all season.
But the Patriots boast so many weapons that opponents must pick their poison. The Browns took Moss out of the equation, but Ben Watson exploded for a career-high 107 yards in receiving and contributed two touchdowns.
"Moss has been killing people and we didn't want him to kill us, so we died at the hands of somebody else," Crennel told the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.
That somebody else was thankful to get that chance.
"It's great having the opportunity," Watson said. "That's why you always have to be ready."
All the Browns could do by that time was get ready themselves for the winless Miami Dolphins. It would be refreshing to face a team with a zero in the win column rather than a zero in the loss column, which the Patriots would maintain throughout the regular season.