The Patriots other big time off-season acquisition at wide out, Donté Stallworth, and tight end Benjamin Watson were outstanding catching the ball as the Browns' defense were determined not to let Randy Moss beat them.
With Randy Moss burning opposing teams' defenses the last four weeks, Browns head coach Romeo Crennell decided to neutralize the 6-foot-4 all pro receiver by playing man coverage by the cornerback, with zoned coverage over the top by the safety. That left Stallworth open on the other side of the field to do some damage. In fact, it was the "Donté Stallworth Show" as the five year veteran finally made a key contribution in a game this season. During the entire first half, Quarterback Tom Brady seemingly looked for Stallworth on just about every pass play. Belichick said the game plan was to run "our stuff and a lot of that is dictated by the coverage and the matchups that we have there."
"You just go out and play and wait on your opportunity," said Stallworth after the game. "Today I got a little more opportunity because they were trying to take Randy out of the game. When that happens, they leave someone in single coverage When that happens, the other guy has to stand up and make the plays."
Stallworth finished the first half with 4 receptions for 65 yards, including a nifty 34 yard touchdown catch and run, breaking a tackle to scamper in the end zone in the first quarter.
On the Stallworth touchdown, Brady said "I was trying to get the ball to Randy. They played him a little differently than we expected. It was like double-coverage on every play, pretty much. I think there weren't a whole lot of opportunities in the passing game where he wasn't double-covered. They left Donté one-on-one and he made a great catch on that ball, and then his run after passes is one of his strongest assets. He made a great running catch; he got a great block from Sammy [Morris."
Stallworth even took a handoff on a reverse left for a 12 yard run along the left sideline for a first down. When the Browns finally caught on to what the Patriots were doing and began to double cover Stallworth, Brady would check down to other receivers like Wes Welker and Watson late in the first half.
Watson began to make his presence known late in the fist half with a seven yard touchdown catch where he was wide open in the left flat and then in the third quarter with an 11 yard run on another reverse to the left. "It's great having the opportunity," said Watson after the game. "That's why you always have to be ready. You never know when your time is going to come to help out this team."
Watson finished the day with six catches for 107 yards, including a 25 yard touchdown catch down the middle of the field to extinguish any hopes of a Browns' comeback. Pats coach Bill Belichick said the score from Watson occurred when the team needed it most as the offense began to sputter for most of the third quarter. "Yeah, that was a big drive," said Belichick. "After we had the penalty there and hitting Ben that was a big play on that drive. We needed that drive. We really didn't move the ball at all in the third quarter, other than the reverse and I guess one other first down, but we weren't moving much in the third quarter. We need to advance it and that was big."
|Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots passes the ball under pressure from Antwan Peek #56 of the Cleveland Browns defends on October 7, 2007 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)|
On the increased contributions from Stallworth and Watson, Belichick said "I think they all probably help each other - Stallworth and Watson, it seemed like they had more production today and a little bit less to Randy [Moss] and Wes [Welker] It's hard to cover all of them. I can tell you that from practice. They all have good ability and they can get open and Tom [Brady] can get them the ball."
On Watson's contribution, Brady said "the great thing about Ben, he has these games where they kind of could be break-out games and if you stop paying attention to Ben he really hurts you. I think that was the situation on both of those touchdown passes, where they're over-playing one thing and you forget about Ben and he's there to make the play. It's another couple of touchdown catches for him. He's a threat every time he's in the red zone because he has great hands, he's very elusive, and he gets open on the linebackers. I thought he had another great day."
With defenses keying on Moss and Welker, it's a luxury to have Watson and Stallworth as the "so-called" third and fourth options. Brady said "I think both of those guys are big parts of the offense. We need to find ways to get those guys involved and for them to be playmakers in this offense You just have to get them the football. And both of them are great when they get the ball because they're very elusive and strong runners. And if they choose to double Randy and Wes, then those guys have to be parts of the passing game."
Browns coach Romeo Crennel said the Patriots simply have too many weapons to cover. "They have quite a few weapons and you have to try to pick your poison a little bit against these guys," said Crennel. "Moss has been killing people and we didn't want him to kill us, so we died by the hands of somebody else."
Official Game Thread: Browns vs Patriots (Pats site)