|12.08.13 at 8:11 pm ET|
FOXBORO ‘ With the Patriots losing tight end Rob Gronksowski midway through the third quarter with a serious right knee injury after just two catches for 32 yards and the Browns limiting Danny Amendola to four catches for 36 yards, the team needed someone to step up in the passing game.
The spark they needed came from running back Shane Vereen, whose 12 catches for 153 yards set team records for a running back in the Patriots’ wild, come-from-behind, 27-26 win over the Browns.
The third-year running back out of California has made a significant comeback after playing sparingly in his first two seasons.
In Vereen’s four games since returning from a broken wrist, quarterback Tom Brady has targeted him 45 times and has been successful on 33 of them (73 percent), clearly demonstrating an increase in chemistry. In his five games overall this season, Vereen is averaging 7.2 yards per touch and is currently two rushes away from being the third running back in Bill Belichick‘s tenure in New England to reach the 40-rush/40-catch mark in a season. The other two are Danny Woodhead last year and Kevin Faulk in 2008.
‘Helping the team win,’ Vereen said of the biggest factor in his career-high for receiving yards. ‘I mean, if I had to catch the ball in order for us to win the game and make some plays throughout the year, then that’s what, hopefully, I’ll be able to do going forward. Really, it’s all about the team and it’s all about getting a victory.’
Vereen almost singlehandedly gave the Patriots a huge lift after they were seemingly knocked out late in the third quarter. After the Patriots scored their first points of the day, a 33-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with 1:37 left in the third, the Browns immediately responded with a 80-yard touchdown reception from Josh Gordon on the next play from scrimmage making it a 19-3 game.
Then, led by Vereen, the Patriots responded just 1:19 later with a 6-yard Vereen touchdown run, which was set up by a 50-yard reception from the Patriots running back up the left side, followed by another reception for 16 yards over the middle on the next play.
For Vereen, it’s been an up-and-down first few seasons in New England after being selected in the second round in 2011. After missing time due to a few injuries, he’s now getting more action of late and is making the most of his opportunities.
‘Shane, the more opportunity he’s gotten, the more he’s been able to do for us,’ Belichick said. ‘In his rookie year, in the Kansas City game, [in] limited chances he had that year, he was productive. Last year we had some depth in our backfield. When he got an opportunity to play, he did a good job. He obviously had a great game in Buffalo and then missed the next eight weeks. When he’s been in there, he’s been pretty productive for us.’
|12.08.13 at 8:06 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Midway through the second quarter, Tom Brady had a quarterback rating of 31.7. He had completed just 7-of-19 passes for 95 yards and threw an interception to D’Qwell Jackson.
He finished 32-of-52 for 418 yards, including 153 to Shane Vereen. Brady finished with two touchdown passes and a 91.7 rating. Oh yeah, he led the Patriots to their third miraculous win at Gillette Stadium this season, this time 27-26 over the Browns.
“That was awesome. That was awesome,” Brady said after finding Danny Amendola for the game-winning touchdown with 31 seconds remaining. “What a game. I’m just proud of the guys. We fought through a lot of adversity. A lot of mental toughness. We grinded it out, so it was pretty sweet.”
Brady went from one of his worst performances of the season to one of his most clutch over the course of 30 minutes. Just like he did against New Orleans. Just like he did against Denver.
Brady was asked if he’s worried about just cutting it too close, like spotting Cleveland leads of 19-3 late in the third quarter and 26-14 with 90 seconds left.
“We’re not trying to give them those leads and certainly our execution wasn’t great, but we came through when we needed to. We’ve been playing 60 minutes all year,” Brady said. “We’re 10-3. It was a great win.”
As for the nasty injury to Rob Gronkowski, Brady, like the rest of the team, can only hope for the best but fear the worst.
“I don’t know what the circumstances are, but we’re all there with him,” Brady said. “We love him and he’s a big part of this team. We’ll see where he’s at.”
Does that temper the excitement about the win at all?
“Yeah, it hurts to see any of those guys go down,” Brady said. “Certainly with Gronk, and we’ve sustained some pretty big injuries this year with really important, critical players, so we’ve got to just keep bouncing back. No one feels sorry for the Patriots. I think we all feel sorry for Rob, but I don’t think anyone feels sorry for the Patriots. We’re with him. We support him.”
|12.08.13 at 7:12 pm ET|
“We’ve got his back, that’s for sure. Gronk’s a leader on the team. He’s one of the best. We’ve got his back whenever he comes back. It’s frustrating to see him go down. You feel for him.”
The very next play after Gronk’s injury in the third quarter, with the Patriots already trailing 12-0, Tom Brady was strip-sacked and lost the ball. The Patriots, understandably, seemed to have the emotional wind knocked out of them.
“You feel for a guy that gets injured,” Amendola said. “You play the game hard and you fight for four quarters. Unfortunately, it’s a physical game and stuff like that happens but he’ll bounce back and I’m sure he’ll be great again as soon as possible.”
One way to get a teammate’s back is to make plays and pick up the slack. That’s exactly what Amendola did on, getting open for the 1-yard TD pass reception on a Brady rollout to his right.
‘It’s a play we work on every day in practice, actually,” Amendola said. “They manned it up, and we did a good job of executing. It was a good play.
‘We found ourselves behind, and all we wanted to do was focus on executing the plays at hand, and one play at a time, and that’s all you can do at that time. You try to make as many plays as you can, try to stack them up and put a drive together.’
If nothing else, the Patriots showed – for one game – they have the mental toughness to overcome the loss of one of the best offensive weapons in the game, digging out of a 12-point hole in the final 61 seconds.
‘We just tried to execute the plays we work on in practice and tried to make as many plays as we could,” Amendola said. “Situational football, get out of bounds and stop the clock, move the ball, try to get in the end zone.’
Another player who had Gronk’s back was kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who executed the first successful onside kick by the Patriots since 1995, when Bill Parcells‘ Patriots turned the trick against Bill Belichick‘s Browns. The kick with under a minute left set up Amendola’s game-winning touchdown.
‘It was fantastic,” Amendola said of Gostkowski’s kick. “Those specialists work so hard on their craft and kicks, and I’m sure Gost [Stephen Gostkowski] was really excited about it. It was a big play ‘ play of the game.’
|12.08.13 at 6:35 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Standing at his locker following a shocking 27-26 loss to the Patriots — a game the Browns led by 12 with less than two minutes to play — Cleveland safety T.J. Ward stood in discouragement not only about the loss, but also because of his hit on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in the third quarter.
After Gronkowski hauled in a pass from quarterback Tom Brady and scampered up the left side, Ward came in from his safety position and hit the tight end low and hard, striking him in the right knee. Gronkowski was unable to get up on his own and was taken off the field in a cart with what is believed to be a serious right knee injury.
With the way the rules have been altered in the last few years and number of fines handed out due to hits targeting the head, defensive players now are more conscious of that when making tackles and therefore are attacking players’ lower bodies when making tackles.
‘I think they ran a seam route and it was a decision I made just to make a tackle on a big man and unfortunately he got hurt,’ Ward said of the play. ‘If I would have hit him up high, there was a chance I would have been fined and all that other stuff, so I’m just being safe.’
Ward also noted that with him being 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, and Gronkowski being 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, no matter what he did he was likely going to have to hit the tight end low, especially only having a split second to make a decision.
‘It’s not a decision where I am going to go low on every player — no it’s not — but actually, it has kind of turned into that in that split-second decisions where I have a guy running down the field who is 280 [pounds] and I am 200,” he said. ‘And the fact that if you do even it him in the chest and he even decides to hunch down or flinch, or lower his head then I have the chance of being fined.’
The four-year veteran acknowledged he and other defenders are put into a tough spot when going to make tackles because of the increased number of fines for hits to the head.
‘Yeah, it’s being caught between a rock and a hard place,’ Ward said. ‘It is a decision you have to make, but you have to follow the rules at the same time. Gronk is a big dude, he is not small by any means, so already he has that height where it just makes it difficult. I mean, I made a tackle and unfortunately he got hurt. If he would’ve got up there would be no discussion about this right now.’
|12.08.13 at 6:14 pm ET|
|12.08.13 at 4:45 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots pulled out another late win, topping the Browns with 13 points in the last 1:09 for a 27-26 win over Cleveland to come away with the victory.
New England fell behind in this one and it looked bleak, particularly after Cleveland took a 26-14 lead late in the fourth quarter. But, quarterback Tom Brady put together an 11-play, 82-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard pass from Brady to Julian Edelman that made the score 26-21 with just over a minute left.
After New England’s Kyle Arrington recovered the onside kick, the Patriots got down to the Cleveland 1-yard line after a pass interference call on Browns cornerback Joe Haden. New England then took the lead for good after Brady hit Danny Amendola on a 1-yard touchdown pass for the game winner.
A 57-yard field goal attempt from Billy Cundiff fell short as time expired.
Brady finished 32-for-52 for 418 yards with two touchdowns and one interception as the Patriots went to 10-3 on the season.
The comeback win overshadows the fact that Rob Gronkowski went down with what appeared to be a nasty right leg injury. At the end of a nifty pass play from Brady, the tight end was felled by Cleveland defensive back T.J. Ward, going down following the catch. He was carted off the field, and did not return. While there was no official word on what happened — the team termed it a leg injury — it certainly appeared to be the sort of thing that might end up being a long-term problem for the Patriots. One report Sunday afternoon quoted a source as saying it was “not looking good.”
After Gronkowski went down, the Patriots got an offensive boost from Shane Vereen, as running back continued his emergence as one of the more dependable elements of the New England offense — particularly in the passing game — as he finished with 12 catches for 153 yards on the afternoon.
On the other side of the ball, the Browns got an efficient performance from quarterback Jason Campbell, who went 29-for-44 for 391 yards with three touchdowns. After being held in check early, Josh Gordon had seven catches for 151 yards and one touchdown.
Here are a few quick notes on the game.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
‘¢ Vereen also had an impressive afternoon, but was at his best on a 50-yard pass play with Brady at the end of the third quarter where he was able to beat his man deep and almost reach the end zone. The 50-yarder tied for the fourth-longest reception of 2013, tying a 50-yard pickup by Gronkowski last week against the Texans.
‘¢ The other offensive player who did the best job distinguishing himself was probably Blount, who ran hard throughout the afternoon and did a nice job picking up some tough yardage throughout the contest. He also had his first catch of the season, a 32-yarder that set up the first score of the day, a 33-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to make it 12-3 with 1:37 left in the third quarter.
‘¢ Gostkowski had another terrific afternoon, delivering on a 33-yard field goal in the third quarter to help get the Patriots on the board and adding a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter to make it 19-14. It marked the fifth field goal of the season of at least 50 yards for Gostkowski, who is having an excellent season.
WHAT WENT WRONG
‘¢ The loss of Gronkowski is huge. The big fella had just started to really revert back to the hard charging tight end that was able to dominate defenses — entering Sunday’s game against the Browns, he had 27 catches for 419 yards and four touchdowns over the previous four games. If he’s out for an extended stretch, it would be a sizable blow for a New England offense that had just started to find its footing.
‘¢ Another slow start. The Patriots offense was amazingly inept over the first two quarters — New England could not get any sort of offensive traction. The Patriots ran just three plays in Cleveland territory in the first half, as Brady was 7-for-19 for 95 yards and an interception over the first two quarters. (The best offensive performance early on was likely LeGarrette Blount, who had a game-high 36 yards on the ground over the first two quarters.) Over the last five games, New England has been outscored over the first two quarters by a 67-34 margin. Those slow starts are not sustainable when it comes to postseason success.
‘¢ Aqib Talib looked good out of the gate against Gordon, but picked up some bad penalties while working on coverage (including hands to the face, defensive holding and pass interference), and was given the stiff arm by Gordon on an impressive 80-yard scoring strike from Campbell to Gordon late in the third, a play that gave Cleveland a 19-3 lead.
|12.08.13 at 3:15 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Rob Gronkowski had to be carted off the field Sunday midway through the third quarter after taking a vicious shot to his lower right leg. Pro Football Talk reports that an MRI is scheduled for Monday but the initial reports are “not looking good” on his right knee. Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports (via twitter) cited a source in claiming that the tight end “suffered what’s believed to be a torn ACL.”
Gronkowski caught a 21-yard seam route pass to the Cleveland 34. Cleveland strong safety T.J. Ward came in low and drilled him in the right knee area and Gronkowski went down immediately and did not move.
Patriots training staff raced onto the field to examine the knee before a cart was called onto the field after a delay of several minutes.
Gronkowski, who had two catches for 32 yards on five targets, left the game on the cart, accompanied by team medical director Tom Gill. Since coming back from his back and forearm surgeries against the Jets on Oct. 13, Gronkowski has 39 catches for 592 yards and four touchdowns.
The Patriots announced several minutes later that Gronkowski had suffered a leg injury and would not return.
MRI tomorrow for Rob Gronkowski (knee) but initial testing “not encouraging,” per source. “Not looking good,” source said.
‘ ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 8, 2013
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