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Monday, November 8, 2010

What the hell happened in Cleveland?

There is a reason I always tell people that I never gamble on the NFL (besides Fantasy Football which is totally different) - it is impossible to predict!

How else could you explain the Cleveland Browns looking like the best team in football yesterday as they dismantled the Patriots 34-14 at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Yes New England (6-2) was due for a letdown after playing great football for the past five games (all wins) but they would find a way to beat Cleveland (3-5), right?

Nope, the term trap game was an understatement as everything went the Browns' way while fullback Peyton Hillis (career-high 184 yards and two touchdowns) resembled Walter Payton and rookie quarterback Colt McCoy (174 yards passing, 16-yard rushing TD) looked polished in just his third NFL start.

Basically, the only Patriots that bothered to show up were rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez (5 catches, 48 yards, 2 TDs) and Danny Woodhead (54 yards rushing, 38 yards receiving).

This one-sided beating recalled the pasting the Ravens administered in the playoffs last season but come on, that was Baltimore not the Browns. Sure they won in New Orleans two weeks ago and then had a bye but did anybody that doesn't reside in the dog pound take Cleveland seriously?

Phil Dawson hit a 38-yard field goal on the Browns' opening drive. A miscommunication between Sammy Morris and Rob Gronkowski on the ensuing kickoff led to former Pat Ray Ventrone recovering deep in Pats territory. From there, Hillis capped off the short drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.

Hernandez got New England on the board in the second quarter with his first NFL touchdown, a 2-yard pass from Tom Brady (19 for 36, 224 yards, 2 touchdowns) that was actually intended for Gronkowski. It was tipped but Hernandez managed to make the athletic play and catch it in the back of the end zone.

Gronkowski (4 catches, 47 yards) had a miserable day befitting of a rookie, kind of like Hernandez against the Ravens earlier this season. Besides the kickoff mistake, he dropped a couple passes, had a penalty and worst of all, fumbled near the goal-line when New England was driving late in the first half (down 17-7).

Cleveland scored on a gimmick play to go up 17-7 later in the second quarter when wide receiver Chansi Stuckey took the handoff from Josh Cribbs and ran around the left side for an 11-yard score. It completely fooled the Patriots defense and summed up a day when they didn't know how to stop Eric Mangini's improving team.

McCoy's 16-yard touchdown run accounted for the only score in the third quarter and Dawson added another kick in the fourth quarter (37 yards) before the Patriots showed a little pulse with Hernandez's 1-yard touchdown catch.

However, that was short-lived as Hillis successfully ran out the clock and added more points with a humiliating 35-yard touchdown run.

As if the day couldn't get any worse, New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski left the game with a thigh injury, forcing Wes Welker to kick the second extra point. We'll see how serious Gostkowski's injury is moving forward.

Not that they deserved it at all but the Detroit Lions didn't do the Pats any favors as they choked against the New York Jets and lost in overtime. The Patriots and Jets are tied atop the AFC East at 6-2 while the Dolphins are 4-4 and the Bills are 0-8.

With next Sunday night's game at Pittsburgh and then hosting the Colts in two weeks, this was a game that New England had to have and they failed epically. The young defense will need to have a short memory if they're going to make any progress during the meat of the schedule.

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