|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
|12.08.13 at 11:42 am ET|
FOXBORO — The following Patriots players have been listed an inactive for Sunday’s game: linebacker Steve Beauharnais; wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins; running back Brandon Bolden; offensive lineman Marcus Cannon; defensive end Jake Bequette and tight end Michael Hoomananwanui. Here’s a look at what those moves mean for the contest:
Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon: The TCU product was sidelined all week as he continued to be dogged by an ankle injury he suffered in the win over the Broncos — he was downgraded to out on Friday. Will Svitek should see the bulk of the snaps in his place at right tackle. (Youngsters Chris Barker and Josh Kline are also active because of the relatively thin situation on the offensive line.)
Running back Brandon Bolden: The fact that Bolden is on the shelf and Stevan Ridley is back and active seems to suggest that Ridley will get some reps Sunday for the Patriots, one week after he was a healthy scratch against the Texans.
Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins: The rookie has been dogged by a hip issue the last couple of weeks.
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson: The rookie out of Marshall has been dealing with a foot issue, one he suffered in the win over Denver. He was out of practice all week, and downgraded on Friday. With Dobson and Thompkins out, Josh Boyce and Austin Collie could get plenty of reps this time around.
Linebacker Steve Beauharnais: The youngster out of Rutgers has been a healthy scratch for most of the season.
Defensive end Jake Bequette: Another youngster who has been a healthy scratch for the bulk of the season, it appears he’s slipped behind Michael Buchanan and Andre Carter on the depth chart when it comes to backing up Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.
Tight end Michael Hoomanwanui: The sturdy and dependable Hoomanawanui returned to practice this week after sitting because of a knee injury, but the emergence of James Develin at the fullback spot and the work of Rob Gronkowski and Matthew Mulligan mean Hoomananwanui can take another week to get back to 100 percent.
|12.08.13 at 10:06 am ET|
FOXBORO — Cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-30s are expected for kickoff as the Patriots look to win their 10th game of the season for an 11th straight season.
Winds should not be a factor as there will be a breeze out of the northwest at just three miles an hour.
The heavy winter precipitation headed for New England is expected to hold off until well after the game. The weather should not be a factor as Stevan Ridley is expected to be active after getting benched last Sunday in Houston. Before last week, Ridley had fumbled in each of his last three games. He has four overall, losing all four to the opposition.
The Patriots will clinch their fifth straight AFC East title with a win and a Miami loss in Pittsburgh. They will clinch the playoffs with a win and a loss by Baltimore at home to Minnesota.
The 9-3 Patriots have won the AFC East in each of the last four seasons and nine of the last 10 seasons. They will look to extend Bill Belichick‘s NFL record of at least 10 wins in a season to 11 straight seasons. In 2011, Belichick became the first coach in history with nine straight seasons of double-digit wins.
The Patriots own the NFL’s best December record since 2001 with a 46-6 mark, improving on that with last week’s 34-31 come-from-behind win over Houston. The Patriots are also 22-2 at home in December since Gillette opened in 2002, with the last loss coming against San Francisco last season.
The Patriots are the first team to win more than half their games in 13 straight seasons since free agency began in 1993 and just the third overall since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The 49ers (1983-1998) and Cowboys (1970-1985) share the record at 16 straight.
The 4-8 Browns have one win against a winning team this season, when they beat Cincinnati, 17-6, at home on Sept. 29. Overall, they are 1-3 overall this season against teams with a winning record.
Belichick not only started his head coaching career in Cleveland in 1991 but knows their GM quite well as Michael Lombardi worked with Belichick during their days in Cleveland in the early 90s. Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski is in the same position Belichick was in 1991, in his first year as head coach of the Browns, trying to turn around years of losing.
“I definitely remember what some of my experiences were that year,” Belichick said this week. “But as it relates to the Browns right now, we really can’t be too concerned about that. We have a job to do here. They’re a good football team. They have a lot of good players and they work hard and they’ve improved a lot. I don’t want to get caught up in all that. Obviously I’ve talked about this before, I remember the first game. I remember Jimmy Johnson telling me years later that they didn’t even have a scouting report for us in the first game because they were worried about Washington the next week. They didn’t feel like they could dedicate too much time to us, which was about right. So, you remember a few of those things. But I would say, just looking at the Browns organization, overall, separately, it’s obvious they have a plan. Jimmy Haslam, the owner and [President] Joe Banner and then they’ve implemented [General Manager] Mike [Lombardi] and Chud [Head Coach Rob Chudzinski] to go through with it.
“But they definitely have a plan of what they want to do. They have a lot of young players. They’re young on defense, they have a lot of young offensive linemen that aren’t playing who I’m sure they must like. They have a lot of skill players and a lot of good players on defense period. They’ve put a lot of young players into the kicking game. They obviously have a plan ‘ they way they handled the draft last year and so forth. It’s a team that’s young, they’re talented, they’re getting better and it looks like they definitely have a vision that Jimmy and Joe have a definite vision for where they want the team to go and they’ve had Mike and Rob implement it. They have a very experienced coaching staff. Their strength and conditioning staff has obviously done a good job because they have very few injuries, other than at the quarterback position, they’ve remained remarkably healthy throughout the course of the year and they’re a tough, physical team so it’s not like they don’t bang it around in there. Obviously their strength staff has done a great job there. Those are some of the things that I see with the Browns. But really all that’s sort of not really very much in focus because we’re concentrating on what they do, what their tendencies are, what the matchups are going to be, how we’re going to game plan and so forth. That’s really the target for us right now.”
|12.08.13 at 8:50 am ET|
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