"His brain has not only been washed, as they say...It has been dry cleaned." ~The Manchurian Candidate
Cleveland came closer than any team has this season to knocking off the Patriots...and they still got beat by three scores.
A late Randall Gay fumble return for a touchdown got the Pats over the 30-point mark for the fifth straight game, a new team record, as New England dispatched a hungry Cleveland team 34-17 on Sunday. As Gay crossed the goal line, and Stephen Gostkowski added the extra point, the Patriots were once again able to win by 17 or more points, which has only been done four times in NFL history, with the last occurrence happening with the 1999 St. Louis Rams.
"Its good to win." coach Bill Belichick stated following the game on Sunday. "Its always good to win and be 5-0. I don't think that was either teams best game out there today, but in the end we were able to make a few more plays."
Despite being without the services of Laurence Maroney for the second straight week, Sammy Morris carried the running game in Maroney's absence, rushing for 102 yards, the second consecutive week he cracked the century mark. This marks the first time since 1995 that the Patriots have gone three weeks in a row with a 100-yard rusher. Despite serving as a backup for the first three games, and only starting the last two, Morris currently ranks 12th in the league with 370 yards for the season. As a team, New England ran for 146 yards, and moved up to third in the league with a 155 yards/game average for the season.
Tom Brady once again proved to be too much for the opposition, going 22-for-38 for 265 yards. Brady also threw three touchdown passes with no interceptions. The three touchdown passes for Brady ties an NFL record with five games in a row with three or more passing touchdowns. His 16 touchdowns for the season are by far the most in the league, leading Brady's counterpart from Sunday, Derek Anderson, who comes into Monday in second, by five.
What gets lost in Brady's great play is the fact that the offensive line has given him protection and time to throw all year long. The Browns were unable to get to Brady on Sunday, unable to record a sack. Brady has only been sacked three times all season, which is tied with Peyton Manning for the least amount for quarterbacks starting all of their team's games.
"The protection was great all day." Brady remarked in his post-game press conference. "We had no sacks and not a whole lot of pressure. It was another good performance great performance by the offensive line."
Donte' Stallworth recorded his first touchdown as a Patriot late in the first quarter. Brady found him after being able to stand in the pocket and dissect the defense, stepped up, and found Stallworth crossing over the middle. Stallworth made a move down the left sideline, and found the end zone on the 34-yard reception. While Stallworth was a heralded off-season acquisition for the Pats, he came into the game with the Browns only having eight catches on the year. Against Cleveland, while most of the attention was being paid to Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Stallworth was able to capitalize on the defense not accounting for him, catching four passes for 65 yards.
"You just go out and play and wait on your opportunity." Stallworth said. "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 [and] either me or Wes are able to make some plays. When that happens, the other guy has to stand up and make the plays."
Benjamin Watson also made a huge contribution in the passing game, catching six passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns, both career highs. This marks the fifth consecutive week a Patriot had 100 yards receiving, with Moss hitting the mark in the first four games. This is the first time in Patriots history that the team has had five in a row, surpassing the four that was recorded back in 1975.
"It's great having the opportunity." Watson commented following his career day. "That's why you always have to be ready. You never know when your time is going to come to help out this team."
The defense had arguably its worst game, and by most standards, it still wasn't all that bad. Derek Anderson was able to throw for 287 yards and two scores, but also tossed three picks. The first two, which wound up in the hands of Junior Seau and Asante Samuel respectfully, were off of tipped balls, and the last interception, which would be Seau's second of the game, came when Mike Vrabel hit Anderson's arm while he was attempting to throw a short pass to Jason Wright.
The defensive play of the game was turned in by the aforementioned Randall Gay. With the score at 27-17, Cleveland started from deep in their own territory with just 52 seconds remaining in the game, trying to just put some points on the board, as the game was basically over at that stage. Anderson completed the first play of the drive, hitting Kellen Winslow, Jr. over the middle. Gay was then able to track Winslow down and strip the ball away from him just as Winslow's second foot hit the turf. Once the ball was out, Gay had the presence of mind to pick up the ball, and race past the Cleveland offense and into the end zone. While the touchdown was inconsequential, it nevertheless showed how much Gay has developed into a playmaking corner with very instinctive abilities.
Read more of Rich's post game analysis in his Keys to the Game Review.
Game Balls and Goats: Browns vs Patriots
Ask An Insider