REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus
-- The Patriots have been unable to get their passing attack in gear of late. With the exception of the Kansas City game, quarterback Tom Brady has not been sharp lately and that was the case again Sunday in Cleveland when he completed 11-of-20 passes for 157 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but was just 7-for-15 for 69 yards at the half. The pass protection was shaky early in the game and Brady went down twice on the Pats' first possession of the game. His 44-yard touchdown pass came with New England already leading 35-7. He found his favorite target, Deion Branch, just once for 13 yards while connecting three times with David Givens and three with David Patten, who caught the 44-yard touchdown.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A
-- the Patriots once again controlled the game on the ground, rushing for 225 yards, 100 of which came from Corey Dillon on his 18 carries. Kevin Faulk chipped in with 13 runs for 87 yards while rookie Cedric Cobbs ran 16 times for 29 yards. New England also rushed for three touchdowns in the game, but Dillon and Cobbs both lost a fumble, which prevented the grade from being an A-plus. The offensive line did an excellent job getting a hat on a hat and allowing Dillon, who left the game with a leg injury that he said wasn't an injury, but rather a "situation" that he also said was fine, to find the creases. For some reason, it was a big deal that Dillon, who had 98 yards when he left the game, came back in for one more carry to reach the 100-yard mark.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus
-- New England did a nice job defensively of pressuring rookie quarterback Luke McCown, who was throwing off his back foot throughout the game. They sacked McCown three times, although all three came late in the game, and intercepted him twice, one each by Rodney Harrison and Troy Brown. McCown did make some plays late, particularly when he completed a 53-yard pass and a 40-yard pass on consecutive plays to lead a two-play, 93-yard touchdown drive against mostly Patriots subs in the fourth quarter. He also engineered a solid 11-play, 70-yard drive at the end of the half that ended in a 16-yard touchdown pass that deflected off the intended receiver and into the arms of Antonio Bryant for the score. Overall, New England did what it had to do in the passing game. At halftime, McCown was only 10-for-20 for 97 yards.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus
-- William Green never got going early and then the one-sided score made Cleveland one-dimensional and all but eliminated him as a threat. Green finished with 12 carries for 15 yards and the Browns ran for 46 total yards on the day. Green also lost a fumble that was forced when Richard Seymour, who led New England with five tackles, penetrated the backfield and knocked the ball free. Randall Gay scooped up the fumble and ran 41 yards for a touchdown. The Browns' longest run of the day came on a McCown 11-yard scramble. The Patriots defensive front seven controlled the line of scrimmage in the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus
-- Bethel Johnson's 93-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff set the tone for the game and eliminated any extra emotion Cleveland might have had from its coaching change. That was the only big play in the kicking game all day, although Troy Brown did make an alert play on a short punt. He ran up and anticipated the bounce, which deflected off Gay's backside, making it a live ball. Brown saved the turnover by alertly diving on the ball for the fumble recovery. Punter Josh Miller had one punt downed inside the 20-yard line but also had one land in the end zone for a touchback. The Pats did not have a single penalty in the kicking game, which is something that had been a problem recently.
-- The Patriots did an excellent job preparing for a road game in a strange situation against a team that made a coaching change during the week. Not knowing what to expect, Belichick emphasized the need for a fast start to remove any extra emotion the Browns might have, and New England did just that, jumping out 21-0 and never looking back. While Belichick might not admit it, the game had to have some personal overtones and he made sure his team was focused for what could have been a trap game against a 3-8 club on the road. The Patriots game plan called for them to pound away at the Browns front and they did just that, rushing for 225 yards and controlling the clock to the tune of 39:08. New England once again got solid play from its makeshift secondary, a credit to the coaches who continue to find a way to best utilize every player on the roster.
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