Patriots

AFC: Brissett gets in sync to lead Colts past Browns, 31-28

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AFC: Brissett gets in sync to lead Colts past Browns, 31-28

INDIANAPOLIS - Jacoby Brissett needed one game to really get acclimated to running the Colts' offense.

On Sunday, he showed how much he's picked up in three short weeks.

The quarterback, acquired from New England in a Sept. 2 trade, ran for two touchdowns and threw for another then watched the defense hold off Cleveland's late charge for a 31-28 victory - Indy's first of the season.

"Another week, you get a lot more comfortable," Brissett said. "You get to learn from the mistakes you make. I was a lot more, at ease, I would say. It's something I'm still getting used to, but it definitely felt a lot more comfortable today."

Perfect? Not by a longshot.

But unlike a week ago, Brissett avoided making any big mistakes and he managed to get in sync with his wide receivers.

The timing looked better, the throws went deeper and Brissett made key plays almost every time he got the chance. He wound up 17 of 24 with 259 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions while running five times for 14 yards.

And on a day that began with fans booing more than two dozen players who took a knee during the national anthem and ended with the Colts barely hanging on, coach Chuck Pagano walked away with a sense of relief.

"Loved how we started this football game," he said. "Any time you can put 28 points on the board in the first half and get a bunch of three-and-outs on defense and get three takeaways and you can close it out, we need to do a better job of that."

With the win, Indy (1-2) avoids its first 0-3 start since 2011.

For Cleveland (0-3), the struggles continue.

The Browns have lost 28 of their past 30 overall and 15 consecutive on the road, even after entering the game as a road favorite for the first time since 2012.

Cleveland had opportunities - scoring two TDs in the final seven minutes before forcing a punt and getting the ball back at their 9-yard line with 23 seconds to go.

But Rashaan Melvin snuffed out two other scoring chances by picking off DeShone Kizer, who was intercepted again on the game's final play - a desperation heave toward midfield.

"We're tired of being short. Nobody's down," Browns coach Hue Jackson said.

Brissett was the difference.

After acknowledging he spent his first two weeks with the team learning new names, new faces and a new playbook, Brissett got the scoring started with a perfectly timed quarterback draw. The 5-yard TD run made it 7-0.

On Indy's next series, he broke a 7-7 tie by spinning away from the Browns' pressure and scooting 7 yards for another score.

T.Y. Hilton followed that with a nifty 61-yard catch-and-run to make it 21-7, one of his seven catches for 153 yards. Frank Gore's 4-yard TD run extended the lead to 28-87 and forced the Browns to play catch-up the rest of the day.

The Browns got a 19-yard TD run from Duke Johnson Jr. and two TD passes from Kizer - a 1-yarder to David Njoku just before halftime and an 11-yarder to Kenny Britt - before Kizer scored on a 1-yard plunge with 2:04 left to cut the deficit to 31-28.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.