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Snap Judgments: Patriots shock Browns, 27-26, for comeback victory

12.08.13 at 4:45 pm ET
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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.

Report: Rob Gronkowski has torn ACL after getting carted off with injury

12.08.13 at 3:15 pm ET
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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.

 

Read More: Cleveland Browns, Gronk, New England Patriots, nfl

Inactive analysis: Stevan Ridley active and ready to go against Browns

12.08.13 at 11:42 am ET
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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.

Setting the scene: Patriots look for playoff berth at Gillette, Stevan Ridley expected to play

12.08.13 at 10:06 am ET
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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.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots, nfl

Fantasy Football Live Chat, 11 a.m. : Getting you ready for Week 14

12.08.13 at 8:50 am ET
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Join WEEI.com and Rotobahn.com fantasy football expert Pete Davidson in a fantasy football live chat, helping you prepare for the all-important Week 14. Davidson will answer all your questions starting at 11 a.m. Start chiming in now…

 

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Final thoughts on Browns-Patriots

12.08.13 at 6:00 am ET
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1. With Stevan Ridley‘€™s ball security issues landing him on the sidelines, it appears that he won’€™t get an opportunity to break one of the oddest streaks in Bill Belichick‘€™s coaching career. In his year’€™s as a head coach — dating all the way back to his days in Cleveland — he’€™s never had a running back go for 1,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons. He’€™s had plenty of 1,000-yard rushers, including Antowain Smith (1,157 yards in 2001), Corey Dillon (1,635 yards in 2004), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (1,008 yards in 2010) and Ridley (1,263 yards last year). Ridley enters Sunday’€™s game against the Browns with 576 yards — 424 yards shy of the mark — and would have to average 106 yards per game over the last four to hit the plateau. While it’€™s not completely impossible, it would be a bit of a reach. Of the backs Belichick has had, Smith and Dillon have come the closest. Smith followed up his 2001 performance with 982 yards in 2002, falling just short of the back-to-back mark. And Dillon had 733 yards in 2005.

2. Meanwhile, there’€™s another running back who appears likely to hit another interesting mark. Shane Vereen enters this weekend with 35 carries and 28 receptions, impressive numbers considering the fact that he’€™s only played in four of the 12 games to this point in the season because of a wrist injury he suffered in the Week 1 opener against the Bills. However, Vereen figures to be close to hitting the 40-carry/40-catch mark, a plateau that only two other New England running backs have hit since Bill Belichick took over the Patriots prior to the 2000 season. Danny Woodhead did it last year when he had 76 carries and 40 catches — prior to that, Kevin Faulk was the last back to turn the trick while with the Patriots, finishing the 2008 season with 83 carries and 58 catches. (Faulk actually did it four times with New England, with his most impressive multidimensional season coming in 2000 when he finished with 164 carries and 51 catches.) Going back 20 years, Curtis Martin (who had a remarkable 316 carries and 46 catches in 1996, followed up by a 274 carries and 41 catches in 1997), Dave Meggett (1995) and Leroy Thompson (1994) also turned the trick while with New England.

3. Another running back tale — file this one under one who got away. Detroit’€™s Joique Bell recounted an interesting story this week, speaking with MLive about how he almost became a member of the Patriots on two separate occasions. The 27-year-old Bell, who has 435 rushing yards and 378 receiving yards with the Lions this year, said that after he went undrafted in 2010, he got a call from Belichick about possibly coming to New England. Bell was interested, but asked for a few minutes to confer with his agent. After checking with his agent, he called Belichick back, but was told by that point, the Patriots had already signed another running back. (Bell didn’€™t saw who the back was, but a look back at the free agent transactions following the 2010 draft reveals that the Patriots signed running back Pat Paschall, a North Dakota State product who was waived two months later.) He ended up with the Eagles, but Bell also said that after he was let go later in his career, he had everything lined up to sign with New England again, only to return to the Eagles again.

4. Here’€™s a quick look at some of the more important AFC games this weekend, as viewed through a Patriots prism:

a. Indy (8-4) at Cincy (8-4), 1 p.m. One of the two biggest games for Patriots fans to keep an eye on. If the Colts are able to knock off the Bengals, it’€™ll give New England some breathing room when it comes to the chase for that No. 2 spot. Currently, the Patriots are a game up on both teams, and while it’€™s not exactly palatable to be tied with the Colts, New England currently holds the tiebreaker between the two teams if it came to that. The Patriots aren’€™t as lucky when it comes to the Bengals, as New England lost to Cincy on the road earlier this season. A Patriots win and Bengals loss would give the Patriots a little separation.

b. Miami (6-6) at Pittsburgh (5-7), 1 p.m. This is the other key one for New England fans. If the Patriots win and Dolphins lose, that would clinch the AFC East for New England and give the Patriots a playoff spot. If both New England and Miami win, the Patriots would have to wait until next week in South Florida for another chance to clinch the division.

c. Kansas City (9-3) at Washington (3-9), 1 p.m. Given the Broncos slate the rest of the way — they have the easiest schedule among the AFC elite — it would be a bit much to think that the Chiefs have a shot at coming back in the AFC West, even though they’€™re only a game back of Denver. But stranger things have happened. No. 5 Kansas City gets its chance to snap its three-game losing skid against the Redskins, an embarrassing team that’€™s circling the drain as the 2013 season comes to a close.

d. Minnesota (3-8) at Baltimore (6-6), 1 p.m. The Ravens are on the march, having nudged their way back into the AFC playoff picture, and they have another chance to make even more noise this weekend at home against the lowly Vikings. Baltimore, who currently sits at No. 6 in the playoff race, needs to take advantage this week against Minnesota, because it’€™s their only tomato can the rest of the way — the Ravens have the toughest final quarter of the season from a strength of schedule standpoint. Over the last three games, they face teams with a combined mark of 24-12.

e. Tennessee (5-7) at Denver (10-2), 4 p.m. As we previously stated, it would be a surprise if the Broncos weren’€™t able to run the table the rest of the way and finish 14-2 and with the AFC West title, particularly when you consider the fact that the combined record of their remaining opponents is 16-32, with none of them at or above .500. Regardless of what the Chiefs do, a win Sunday against the Titans — who are still mathematically in the postseason chase — would effectively end the divisional race.

f. New York Giants (5-7) at San Diego (5-7), 4:25 p.m. A must-win game for both teams if they want to stay in the postseason picture. The Chargers are one of four teams in the AFC sitting at 5-7 — it would be hard enough just getting separation from that group, but whoever might emerge from that swampy morass then has to climb over the Dolphins (6-6) and battle with the Ravens (6-6) for that final wild card spot. Not an easy task.

5. We’€™ll have more on this in the coming weeks — and I feel like I’€™ve written on it a few times already — but it’€™s worth mentioning again that the 2013 Patriots will almost certainly go down as one of the most disciplined teams of Belichick’€™s time in New England. Through 12 games, the Patriots have the second-fewest penalties and penalty yardage in the league (51 and 493 yards), and are on pace to be flagged for 68 penalties and 657 penalty yards over the regular season. That would represent a dramatic dip in regular season penalties against over the course of the last few years: last season, it was 97 penalties and 840 yards, and in 2011, it was 87 penalties and 815 yards. One of the reasons for the improvement is simple — they’€™ve run fewer plays on both sides of the ball this year than in year’€™s past. But as we’€™ve pointed out before, they also deserve credit for not getting flagged down as often in 2013. For complete penalty information, check out our weekly updates here.

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Bill Belichick, Bob Knight and what it takes to go from the hardwood to the NFL

12.07.13 at 4:21 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick has had a good amount of success recruiting athletes from other sports and converting them into viable and productive NFL players.

There was offensive lineman Stephen Neal, an NCAA champion wrestler and five-sport athlete. There is defensive back and special teamer Nate Ebner, a world-class rugby player.

On other teams, there are numerous examples. Take San Diego tight end Antonio Gates. He turned down Michigan State because Nick Saban would not let him play basketball in addition to football. There’s Jimmy Graham, the Saints All-Pro tight end who also starred in basketball for the Miami Hurricanes.

Then there’s Jordan Cameron, the Browns tight end who could give the Patriots fits on Sunday. Cameron was going to play basketball at BYU before transferring to Southern California to play football.

Is there something those players have in common that Belichick sees when defending them?

“I think the biggest thing that I’€™ve seen with basketball players through the years is their hands,” Belichick said. “Those guys have to have good hands. They obviously handle the ball a lot and it’€™s on them quickly. They’€™re cutting and it’€™s a short pass and a lot of times it comes at good speed or bounce passes and trying to get it around the defender. They have to be able to react to the ball very quickly. It’€™s a lot different than football, seeing the ball travel however many yards to you. If you’€™re coming out of a cut, it’€™s still not like in basketball where the passes are, a lot of times, very short, very tight and you have to reach out and extend and get the ball away from the defender, like you do in football situations rebounding the ball. It’€™s not about ‘€“ you can’€™t let it come into your body. You have to go up and aggressively take it.

“I would just say in general that basketball players, and certainly basketball players that have come into football that I’€™ve coached or I’€™ve observed, one pretty common thing is their hands and their ability to handle the ball aggressively, cleanly and it gets on them quickly but it doesn’€™t seem to affect them like it does other players sometimes where the ball is on them and they can’€™t quite find it and adjust to it. Those guys seem like they’€™re used to it. They’€™ve done it their whole lives and they’€™re used to it.”

If history is any indication, Belichick is likely to break out part of the game plan from the Saints game as the Patriots became the only team to hold Graham without a catch so far this season.

As for scouting basketball players to play in the NFL, Belichick says he has spoken with former Indiana legendary coach Bob Knight back in the early 1990s, when Knight was still with the Hoosiers and Belichick was coaching the Browns.

“We’€™ve seen those guys through the years ‘€“ guys with football backgrounds than end up playing basketball,” Belichick said. “I’€™d say I’€™ve had many conversations with [former Head] Coach [Bob] Knight about that when he was at Indiana. I would say that the big thing for most basketball players is, in general, they’€™re quicker than they are fast. When you get out there and time a lot of those guys in the 40-yard dash, they’€™re slow. They might look fast on a basketball court, but we have such a much bigger field that vertical speed, especially for those positions ‘€“ there aren’€™t many linemen playing basketball so you’€™re talking about skills guys, receivers and DBs, those type of positions, that most of them don’€™t have the speed that we, at our level, they don’€™t have the speed to play.

“They have quickness and a lot of times they have exceptional quickness but when it just comes to straight, flat-out speed, I’€™d say that’€™s where a lot of times, in the scouting part of it, the deficiencies come up. You go see a basketball player and say, ‘€˜This guy has great hands. This guy has great quickness. This guy is strong, he’€™s competitive.’€™ Then you go out and time him and he runs 4.75-4.8 and you’€™re like, ‘€˜What are you going to do with him?’€™ What corner in this league is ‘€“ they have to be able to run faster than that or if they’€™re receivers, they have to able to run faster than that. I’€™ve seen that several times. Like I said, I’€™ve been in a couple of those situations with Coach Knight at Indiana, like ‘€˜Hey, I want you to take a look at this kid, this guy he’€™s this, he’€™s that.’€™ And he was, but then you go out and put a watch on him and he’€™s just not fast enough to play at this level. It’€™s generalities but that’€™s my general experience with it.”

Read More: basketball, Bill Belichick, Bob Knight, Cleveland Browns

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