New England Patriots Team Report

Bill Belichick is wary of his team's mental state this week. After an emotional win over the Miami Dolphins that some Patriots called their best since capturing Super Bowl XXXVI, an emotional letdown is a real threat regardless of the opponent, which just so happens to be the Cleveland Browns, who will visit Gillette Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m.

"I think when you watch Cleveland on film, you see a good football team," Belichick stressed. "We have all the respect in the world for them."

That is what Belichick is trying to convey to his team this week. He's focusing hard on the Browns' positive qualities rather than their inconsistencies to make sure his team sees the potential danger they face at home this week.

The letdown looming has nothing to do with the Browns, however, and more to do with the emotion the team has played with for several weeks that seems almost impossible to sustain.

He knows his team has overcome debilitating injuries because of its increased focus, attention to detail and emotional play. A slip up in any one of those areas could be the difference between 6-2 and 5-3 when Monday rolls around. And with a road trip to Denver looming, Belichick must make sure his team doesn't overlook the 3-4 Browns.

If team captain Rodney Harrison is any indication, Belichick's message has been received. "This is probably the biggest game of our year right now," Harrison said. "After coming out of Miami with a victory, we really need to step up and not have an emotional letdown. We need to come back with the same focus and intensity because this is a very good team."

Cleveland is talented but has been inconsistent and is coming off a home loss to the winless Chargers last week. But it actually has played better on the road than at home. The Browns are 2-1 on the road this season with impressive wins at Pittsburgh and San Francisco while stumbling to a 1-3 mark in Cleveland. They are 8-3 on the road dating back to the start of last season. The Patriots, however, are 3-0 at home this year and 8-3 at Gillette Stadium since it opened last year.

"Sometimes your team just takes on a personality or an us-against-the-world attitude when it goes on the road and plays in a hostile environment. Everybody pulls together knowing that you're not getting any fan support. You have to generate all your energy internally. Sometimes that pushes a team's performance level up a bit. They seem to have a good attitude because they have done very well (on the road) the last two years," Belichick said.

Letdowns are always a possibility after a big win, but Belichick has done a solid job during his Patriots tenure of keeping his team focused on the task directly in front of it. It's been his "bury-the-ball" mentality where the last game is buried regardless of its outcome. That attitude renders the Patriots three-game winning streak meaningless.

"I don't think our team is looking at it as anything of a consecutive nature," he said. "This week we're getting ready for Cleveland and we're trying to find a way to play as well as we can against the Browns and that is what it's about. It's not about last week or the week before. We've had our ups and downs, but we are looking forward."

Looking forward, Belichick sees a Browns team with explosive offensive weapons and a defense that has suffered a couple of lapses, but has been solid overall, allowing 17 points per game behind the NFL's top-ranked pass defense and sixth-ranked defense overall.

Cleveland has allowed 571 rushing yards in its losses to Baltimore and San Diego and 372 rushing yards in its other five games. It also allows just 147 passing yards per game. So don't be fooled by two games. The Browns have a formidable defense.

"They're second in the league in the red area (4 touchdowns allowed in 17 trips) defensively," Belichick warned. "They knock the quarterback down. They're a playoff team from last year and it shows. They had two bad games against the run, but when you look at the rest of the plays, there's not much there. They gave up some long runs, but it's difficult to count on 80-yard touchdowns.

"I'm very impressed with their offensive weapons," he continued with his scouting report. "They have an explosive group that can score from anywhere on the field."

Cleveland's quarterback play may be the biggest culprit in its inconsistent start. Both Kelly Holcomb and Tim Couch have played and they've combined to throw nine touchdowns and nine interceptions with a 74-passer rating. Couch has been slightly more effective, completing 65 percent of his throws and averaging almost 1.5 yards more per attempt than Holcomb, although Couch was benched late last week against the Chargers.

The Patriots are preparing to face both. "That makes the challenge that much tougher," Belichick said. "Both guys have been productive. They have won with both and both have shown the ability to make big plays and move the team. They have a little bit different styles, but they're not opposite extremes like we faced a couple of years ago in Atlanta when we prepared for Chris Chandler and Michael Vick. I think it's just more of an awareness for each guy's tendencies. They run the same plays, but there is a difference in their execution styles."

SERIES HISTORY: 19th meeting. Browns lead series 12-6, but the Patriots have won three of the last four including two years ago in Foxborough when they won 27-16 during their nine-game winning streak that ended in a Super Bowl title. The Patriots are 1-1 vs. the Browns under Belichick. But Belichick actually coached against the Patriots six times while the Browns head coach from 1991-1995 and was 4-2 against New England.

When these teams last met, the Patriots were unknowingly on the way to a championship and Cleveland put a scare into their end-of-season winning streak. Cleveland actually led 10-3 in the first quarter, but then Troy Brown took over. He caught seven passes for 89 yards, but his big play came on special teams when he returned a Chris Gardocki punt 85 yards for a touchdown.

Interestingly, the Patriots spent extra time that week working on punt returns because of a weakness they saw in Cleveland's coverage of Gardocki's long punts. Using several starters on the punt return team that week paid off as Lawyer Milloy and Richard Seymour made the key blocks that sprung Brown for the score that put New England on top 17-10. But it was still just 20-16 with 2:43 left when Antowain Smith sealed it with a 5-yard touchdown run.

The game came just one year after the Browns, in their second season back in the league, upended the Patriots 19-11 in Cleveland in Belichick's first return to his old city as a head coach. He was roundly booed and his team played poorly in falling to the struggling Browns.


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