For the Patriots, the 34-14 loss to the now 3-5 Browns was a rude awakening.
Boasting the best record in the NFL just a week before at 6-1, the Patriots prepped as they typically would for any other opponent. But to their surprise, an entirely different and unexpectedly poised Browns' team was present for Sunday's game.
Making some of the biggest plays for the Browns was former Broncos running back Peyton Hillis. The Cleveland running back tore through the Patriots defense play after play and was applauded by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on his game performance.
"He said ‘congrats' and that he was impressed," Hillis noted. "And when you get a compliment like that from a great coach, it means a lot."
The game exposed plenty of things that the Patriots lacked on and Belichick didn't hesitate to discuss these flaws.
"We didn't do a good job on anything today. Pick any subject you want and say ‘How did it go?' and it wasn't very good."
The Defensive Faults
When examining the Patriots overall performance during the game, it's tough to find any bright spots. More specifically on the Patriots defense, who couldn't seem to get a step ahead of the highly productive Browns offense led by rookie quarterback Colt McCoy.
McCoy was given the starting quarterback position after Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are both dealing with ankle injuries. The former Texas quarterback was an impressive 14 for 19 passes for 174 yards with no sacks or interceptions. Although McCoy did not throw any touchdown passes, the rookie ran one in for 16 yards in the third quarter.
The Patriots defense showed much frustration after the game. Many of the players confessed that they knew what the Browns were doing and just couldn't come up with a way to stop them.
Linebacker Jerod Mayo, who is currently on a five game streak of amassing 10 total tackles, expressed his thoughts on his team's performance, "This was very disappointing. Coming in, we felt pretty good about our run defense and he (Hillis) just came out with their offensive line and did a great job and ran the ball hard."
Mayo summed up the Patriots defensive attempts for the majority of the game as, "We were just looking for an answer."
The answer never came to the team as quarterback Tom Brady had to work through a 10 point deficit before he even got his first snap of the game.
The greatest threat of the game that the Patriots couldn't find an answer for was halting the ground attack of Peyton Hillis. The running back who arrived in Cleveland via the Brady Quinn trade with the Denver Broncos, was outstanding with 29 carries for 184 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Hillis also made three catches for 36 yards.
As the Patriots rush defense was dismantled by the Browns, they dropped in league rankings from 11th to 21st.
Patriots Offense Never Found a Rhythm
Tom Brady was frank when asked about how he felt about his, up until Sunday, versatile and dominant offense, "We were out of sync a little bit. We didn't have a very good day on offense."
It was this offense that spent only 21:52 minutes on the field and managed 283 total yards. Browns' coach Eric Mangini knew the magnitude of keeping the time possession for the Patriots to a minimum, "...The more time you can keep Tom Brady and that offense off the field, the better we are. Mangini on Brady off the field
Tom Brady was less than stellar with completing just 19 of 36 passes for 224 yards and was sacked once. On a more positive note, Brady completed two touchdown passes to rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Hernandez had one of his best games this season with five catches for 48 yards and two touchdowns. One of the touchdowns highlighted the rookie's athleticism by catching a deflected pass intended for the other rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, deep in the end zone.
Special Teams Struggles
Unlike Aaron Hernandez, who had an impressive showing against the Browns defense, tight end Rob Gronkowski struggled from the start of the game. Once the Browns scored with a quick field goal within the first five minutes of the game, Gronkowski lined up in the middle for the kickoff and a miscommunication with teammate Sammy Morris led to a Browns' recovery and another scoring opportunity by running back Peyton Hillis.
Within minutes, the Patriots were down 10 points.
But the kickoff wasn't Gronkowkski's only miscue. He fumbled near the goal line thwarting a chance for the Patriots to bring the score close just before halftime.
"I should have two hands on the ball. I shouldn't be letting defenders get in to the ball like that." Gronkowski confessed. The rookie had a less than productive game with four catches for 47 yards.
One of the top stories regarding that Patriots special teams was the injury to the team's sole kicker, Stephen Gostkowski. The kicker suffered a quad strain during the game and also forced the Patriots to utilize wide receiver Wes Welker to convert the extra point and also for the remaining kickoff in the fourth quarter. Welker has had to fill in for the kicking job before as a member of the Miami Dolphins in 2004 when he successfully kicked a 29 yard field goal and kickoffs.
Stephen Gostkowski is most likely to be out for at least two weeks and the Patriots are now forced to look for a temporary replacement. In the current season, Gostkowski has made 76.9% of his attempts with his longest successful kick was just at 49 yards.
It's been an interesting season for the Patriots with a few struggles early in the season and teaching a team of young players to play like group of veterans. As it was exposed in Cleveland, having the best record in the league doesn't guarantee a smooth ride through the rest of the season.
The Patriots are now facing the toughest time of their schedule and having to deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers and their dominating defense is just another hurdle. Although the Steelers are 5-2, they haven't been dominating offensively against opponents. They're ranked 16th in points scored and 28th in passing yards. One thing to examine closely for the Patriots defense and how they'll hold up against the run of Rashard Mendenhall and the deep threat of wide receiver Hines Ward.
The main event for this game is of course the Patriots offense matched up against the number one ranked Steelers defense. Offensively, Tom Brady needs to spread the defense with short and accurate passes to a plethora of targets. Maintaining variety is the most effective way to beat the Steelers defense. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will definitely struggle against the number one rushing defense but utilizing the smaller stature of Danny Woodhead will add to the Patriots ground attack.
This will not be an easy game for the 6-2 Patriots as they face one of the toughest teams in the league.
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The Patriots will face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Sunday, November 20, 2010. Kickoff is set for 8:20 p.m.
Kisha Tapangan is a contributing writer for PatriotsInsider.com She also maintains her personal blog Necessary Roughness and can be found on Twitter @KishaT. Be sure to check back for regular updates by Kisha