Patriots pull a stunner, beat the Browns 27-26

Sunday, December 08, 2013
John Rooke, GoLocalProv Sports Editor

After a season full of surprises, comebacks and unlikely performances...which would it be this Sunday? Play up - or down - to the level of competition on the other sideline?

Spotting 24 points to two-loss Denver and roaring from behind...and then coming from 10 points down at hapless 10-loss Houston, New England has had the consistent habit of having to come from behind, no matter the level of play by their opponent.  On a cold and potentially cruel day at Gillette Stadium...Cleveland proved the old cliche - "on any given Sunday" to be true.  But it would be the Patriots striking late to stun the Browns 27-26.

Following the opening kickoff, Cleveland moved the ball 10 plays, covering 47 yards on the drive with the Patriots defense giving QB Jason Campbell plenty of early room to operate, and Billy Cundiff kicked a 43 yard field goal to get the Browns on the board first.  After the Patriots' second series of the quarter, Tom Brady threw a perfect pass - right to LB D'Qwell Jackson - to set the Browns up with good field position.  That mistake ended with another Cundiff field goal, from 37 yards, and early in the 2nd quarter, Cleveland held a 6-0 lead.

The Patriots ran only eight plays in the entire opening period, their fewest in a 1st quarter in two years.  Maybe it was the cold, perhaps it was the opponent...or a combination of the two.

Neither team generated much offense before the half arrived, although Josh Gordon (498 receiving yards the past two games) did manage to grab his first pass of the day on a 20-yarder from Campbell with about 4:33 to play in the 2nd.  The Patriots' defense did a reasonable job keeping him out of the Browns' offensive mix early, and a second completion to Gordon for short yardage forced a Cleveland  punt with 3:23 to go, pinning the Pats inside their five.

Without any consistency or a big play on the offense, Brady and company could not do much with the ball, holding possession for only 10:21 out of 30 minutes...nor could they score any points.  Shockingly, they found themselves down to the 4-8 (now 4-9) Browns by that 6-zip halftime score.  Perhaps they were just following the game plan all along - spot the lead again, then pick it up in the second half?

Nope.  At least not initially.  After taking the ball at their own 21, Campbell moved the Browns 73  yards in five plays, with big gains to TE's Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge.  Barnidge's catch went for 40 and the touchdown, giving Cleveland a 12-0 lead after a failed two-point attempt with 10:15 to play in the third.  Then, with 8:27 to play in the quarter, after Brady found TE Rob Gronkowski open for a 21-yard completion, Gronk took a huge hit on his right knee from T.J. Ward.  

The entire stadium groaned as a cart came onto the field to take him away...followed by applause and cheers of "Gronk!  Gronk!" as he was helped by teammate Matthew Mulligan.  It was as if everyone in attendance felt his pain.  Especially Tom Brady.

The very next play, Brady fumbled the ball away to Cleveland's John Hughes.

While the Browns could not take advantage of the miscue, it would be up to Brady to find a spark for the offense without Gronkowski's presence in the lineup.  Converting on a 4th down sneak at midfield on his next drive, Brady hooked up with LeGarrette Blount for 32 yards, but the drive stalled and forced Stephen Gostkowski to kick a 33-yard field goal to make it 12-3, with 1:37 left in the quarter.

Cleveland rocked New England (10-3) on the very next play, as Campbell connected with Gordon on an 80-yard catch-and-run TD play.  Gordon, bottled up most of the day, was in single coverage with Aqib Talib...and Talib never got close to him.  It was 19-3 with just over a minute still left in the 3rd. 

Maybe that was the spark needed to awaken the Pats?  Three plays, 80 yards, all from Shane Vereen on two receptions and a run immediately followed...the first catch and run going for 58 of those yards...and the TD pass from six yards.  Brady then hit Julian Edelman for a two-point conversion, and all of a sudden, it's 19-11 with six ticks still left in the 3rd quarter.

The Patriots' defense came up with the big stop they had been waiting for all game, on a 3rd down sack of Campbell by Rob Ninkovich and Andre Carter to end the next possession.  A promising drive was stopped short, however, thanks to a grounding call going against Brady...leading to a 50-yard FG from Gostkowski for a 19-14 score.  And 5:43 left on the clock.

Which also left plenty of time for Cleveland to find Gordon again - which they did.  After a 34-yard Gordon reverse put the ball in New England territory, on 3rd and 17 Campbell found Gordon for 20 yards...which on replay looked like it could be an incompletion.  But the play was ruled a catch.  The Browns got their first down.  And three plays later, got their apparent clinching touchdown too, as Campbell found a wide open Jordan Cameron from four yards out for the score to make it 26-14 with 2:39 left.

Brady did lead a 10 play, 81-yard drive in just over 90 seconds to make things interesting, hitting Edelman with a one-yard scoring pass to make it 26-21, with 1:01 left.  The ensuing onside kick attempt was recovered by Kyle Arrington, after the Browns' Fozzy Whitaker appeared to touch it short of the required 10 yards in distance the ball needed to travel.  Starting at the Browns' 40, and after a 10 yard completion to Danny Amendola, a shot to the end zone for Josh Boyce went incomplete, but Cleveland's Joe Haden was called for pass NE the ball at the one with :35 seconds remaining.

Can't make this stuff up.

Brady went right to the end zone, finding Amendola for the score in the near corner, leaving the Gillette Stadium crowd happily stunned, to say the least.  The two-point conversion try fell short on a Vereen run, to put the count at 27-26 with still 31 seconds left.  Campbell hit TE's Barnidge and Cameron to reach the 47, then found Cameron again at the NE 40 with one second left.  A 58 yard FG try by Cundiff fell short.

Good grief.  Nothing like waiting until the very, very last second to win it.

Post Game Notes

"That was awesome. That was awesome," Brady said post-game. "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."...prior to Sunday, the only other time the Patriots recovered an onside kick in a victory was on September 27, 1964, when Jim Lee Hunt recovered a Gino Cappelletti onside kick near the end of the first half. Cappelletti missed an ensuing field goal attempt with the Patriots holding a 13-10 second-quarter lead in a game they eventually won 26-10...Gronkowski, according to several reports, was taken to a local hospital for further examination on his injured knee...ESPN reported Gronk has a torn ACL, and will be re-evaluated after an MRI exam Monday...New England has reached at least 10 regular-season wins for 11 consecutive seasons, joining San Francisco (16) as the only teams to accomplish the feat...Bill Belichick has coached the Patriots to 11 straight seasons with 10 or more wins, adding to his NFL record streak. In 2011, Belichick became the first coach in NFL history with nine straight seasons with at least 10 victories...Shane Vereen had 12 receptions for 153 yards, setting single-game franchise records for most receptions and most receiving yards by a running back...the Patriots’ Kyle Arrington recovered the onside kick with 1:01 left in the game, marking the first time the Patriots recovered an onside kick since January 1, 1995...since 2001, the Patriots have done a remarkable job of finishing the season strong, compiling an NFL-best 77-18 (.811) record in games on or after Thanksgiving...additionally, the Patriots improved to a record of 27-2 in the second half of the season since 2010, and are 24-2 in December at home since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002...Brady’s 418-yard performance is the first time a passer has broken the 300-yard passing mark against Cleveland in 2013...scoring two TD's in the final 1:01, the Patriots have been scoring fourth quarter points at a torrid pace in 2013, putting up 129 fourth-quarter points through the first 13 games, including 16 fourth-quarter points in their comeback against Cleveland...the comeback win is the 5th this season by Brady and the Patriots, tying the mark for most such games in the regular season during his career - also achieved in 2003...

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