Patriots

A bizarro effort for Patriots in 34-14 loss at Cleveland

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A bizarro effort for Patriots in 34-14 loss at Cleveland

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

Ladies and gentlemen, may we present the Bizarro Patriots.

All the accepted truths of the New England Patriots were turned on their head by the Bizarro Pats in their ghastly 34-14 loss to the Browns in Cleveland on Sunday.

You know how the Patriots never beat themselves? How about Rob Gronkowski and Sammy Morris letting a kickoff drop between them -- Gronkowski called for a fair catch and then backed off -- which led to a) Cleveland recovering the ball on the Pats' 19-yard line and b) scoring a touchdown two plays later? Or Gronkowski fumbling away the ball on the Browns' 2-yard line in the final seconds of the first half when the Pats were driving for a touchdown that would have cut their deficit to three points?

You know how the Patriots chew up and spit out rookie quarterbacks with their baffling combinations of hidden coverages and surprise formations? How about Colt McCoy shredding the Pats' defense as he were playing Florida Atlantic, completing 14 of 19 passes for 174 yards and scrambling for 20 more, including a touchdown?

You know how the Patriots have owned the second half of games this year? How about giving up the first 10 points of the last two quarters, turning a 17-7 game into a 27-7 game and ending any hopes of a New England comeback?

And that's just the top of it. Throw in a raft of dropped passes -- Gronkowski and Brandon Tate were particularly butter-fingered -- the Pats' inability to stop Cleveland's bowling-ball fullback, Peyton Hills (29 carries, 184 yards), a worse-than-the-stats-make-it-look performance by Tom Brady (19-of-36, 224 yards, 2 TDs), and you had a road disaster indisguishable from many of the Patriots' away-from-Gillette efforts of 2009 . . . except that, unlike '09, they didn't give it up at the end. This one started early.

How early? Try a 21-yard pass from McCoy to Mohamed Massaquoi on the game's first play, followed by a setting-the-tone 18-yard run from Hillis that had the Browns on the New England 24. The drive stalled and the Browns had to settle for a 38-yard field goal by Phil Dawson and a 3-0 lead.

But any momentum the Pats may have garnered from that stop was gone in the time it took for Gronkowski and Morris to mess up the ensuing kickoff and for the Browns to recover on the New England 19. A 17-yard pass from McCoy to Evan Moore moved it to the 2, and Hillis scored on the next play for a 10-0 lead.

The Patriots were held to 21 offensive yards in the first quarter, but came alive with an 11-play, 79-yard drive that was capped by a one-yard, Brady-to-Aaron Hernandez pass that made it 10-7 in the second. The Browns, however, responded with a 60-yard scoring drive of their own, going ahead 17-7 on an 11-yard run off the wildcat by Chansi Stuckey.

The Pats' last chance to get back in the game ended when Gronkowski had the ball stripped out of his hands on the Cleveland 2 with 20 seconds left in the half, ending a long drive that, had it ended in a touchdown, would have cut Cleveland's lead to 17-14. Instead the half ended 17-7, the Pats had to punt on their first possession of the third quarter, and McCoy put it away by engineering a 72-yard drive that he capped with a 12-yard scramble for a touchdwn that made it 24-7.

The teams then traded touchdowns, with the Pats scoring on a two-yard Brady-to-Hernandez pass and the Browns on a 35-yard run by Hillis.

The good news for the Patriots? Well, the Jets were losing for most of the day, so it looked as New England might have been able to maintain its one-game lead in the AFC East. But even that fell through, as New York rallied, tied the game on a field goal on the last play of regulation, and won it on a field goal in overtime. So New York and New England are tied again . . . and, since the Jets a) beat the Patriots head-to-head and b) have only one conference loss to the Pats' two, New York has several tie-breaking edges, as well.

The bad news? Everything else.

Bizarro indeed.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Bill Belichick: 'Incomprehensible' to think Patriots would pick up from where they left off last season

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Bill Belichick: 'Incomprehensible' to think Patriots would pick up from where they left off last season

Bill Belichick knows that people outside his organization expected big things from his team this season, but he gave a long explanation for how those expectations should have been tempered headed into 2017. 

Belichick was asked during a conference call on Monday how he balances week-to-week adjustments with the foundation of the system his team installed before the season began. What resulted was a 789-word response on how teams have to come together early in the year -- and why it's difficult for things to look like they're running smoothly through the few weeks of the regular season. 

It felt like Belichick had something he was itching to share on the topic, so here is Belichick's response in full . . . 

"Well, I’ll just say that when you start the season, you have, let’s call it 20 practices, not including the spring. So let’s call it 20 practices and some preseason games, and during that time you’re trying to evaluate your team, work on a lot of basic and fundamental things and I’ll say basically get your team ready to play not only on the opening day, but for getting conditioned and build your fundamentals and all that so that you can compete in the 16-game regular season.

"In those 20 practices and however many preseason games certain players play in – two, three, four, whatever it is – against other teams that are doing the same thing, so you’re not getting schemed, you’re not getting game planned, you’re not getting some of the more sophisticated and the higher degree of difficulty things in any phase of the game. You’re in more of an evaluation mode and a fundamental mode. That’s where you’re at, and then as you get into the season, you build on that and you have things that attack certain schemes or you have to use to address certain issues that your opponent is trying to pressure you with.

"Maybe you just sit in your base, whatever it is, to handle it. Maybe your basics handle it, but maybe you need to go a little bit beyond that or maybe you see opportunities to create a play that you might install on a weekly game plan basis, and then all that accumulates. So, when you go from 20 practices to, let’s call it 60 practices over halfway through the season, maybe 80 practices at the end of the season, you’re going to have a lot more in with 80 practices and you could probably triple the number of meetings on that and everything else then where you’re going to have after a relatively short period in training camp. So, along those same lines, I mean, if we keep running the same play all year, the same ones that you put in in training camp and keep running those same plays all year, it’s not that difficult in this league to figure out what those few things are and game plan accordingly.

"So, if you don’t increase the volume of your scheme on offense, defense and special teams, then every week, your opponent’s just looking at a handful of things and probably most of them they’ve seen before. So, I don’t know how much problem, how much stress you’re really putting on your opponent if that’s the way that you do it. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing because you can play your basic stuff, and if it’s working well and if you’re doing well with it and people can’t handle it, then there’s no reason to change it. But I don’t know how many teams in the league fall into that category. I wouldn’t say it’s an exceedingly high number and it never really has been, based on my experience in the league. Although, I’m not saying that can’t happen, but I would certainly say that’s not the most common way that teams evolve throughout the course of the year. 

"So, you do what you need to do each week to try to win. You put in the plays, make the adjustments, you don’t want to overload things – I mean, nobody’s talking about putting in a new offense every week. That’s not it at all, but are there some modifications you can make? Sure, and as you rep those and you use them and if those situations come up again, then maybe you can fall back to that same type of scheme. But to think realistically, which it’s incomprehensible to me, but, I mean, I don’t know. 

"Maybe I just can’t figure it out, but it’s incomprehensible to me how anybody could think that a team that’s practiced for six months and played 19 regular-season and postseason games and had triple-digit practices, five months later, after not playing a game, after having a fraction of that type of experience, could be anywhere close to the level of execution that they were five months before that after all of the things that I just listed. I mean, it’s impossible in my view. So, each year, you start all over again. You start that process all over again. You build your team over the course of the year though practice repetitions, through preseason to regular season games, through the evolving of your scheme, and that’s why each year is different and unique. But, I understand I’m in the minority and most other people don’t see it that way, which is OK, but that’s the way I see it."

Malcom Brown helps spark Patriots run defense vs. Jets

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Malcom Brown helps spark Patriots run defense vs. Jets

The Patriots use a defensive scheme that often asks its defensive tackles to do the dirty work. Two-gap. Take on multiple blockers. Free up linebackers to crash down and make tackles in one-on-one situations with opposing running backs. 

It's not the most glamorous job. Sometimes it's difficult to see in real time when one of the big bodies up front is executing his duties effectively or not. But it's a critical role all the same.

On Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Patriots got some solid work from their tackles to help limit the Jets to 3.1 yards per carry and just 74 rush yards total. Malcom Brown stood out as the team's top tackle on the day, and one of his team's best defensive players overall. 

The third-year 320-pounder had four tackles that limited to the Jets to gains of two yards or less. He also picked up a sack when he chased Josh McCown across the field and touched him down behind the line of scrimmage in the third quarter.

Brown was flagged for a defensive holding call just before Austin Seferian-Jenkins' fumble -- he locked onto the first blocker that engaged him and then didn't release quickly enough when that blocker tried to move on to another Patriots defender -- but overall it was a strong day, according to his head coach.

"I think Malcom’s improved pretty much every week," Bill Belichick said on a conference call Monday. "I know he’s definitely helping us making some significant plays for us out there and, again, eating up a lot of plays in front of him so that other guys, like Elandon [Roberts], Kyle [Van Noy], Dont’a [Hightower] and those guys, can fit in and make the tackles."

Brown wasn't alone. Lawrence Guy was in on a pair of run stuffs that went for two yards or less, and he was credited with three total tackles. Alan Branch played in 22 snaps after being made a healthy scratch in Week 5, and Adam Butler saw 17 snaps on the line.

"I thought we got contributions from all those players . . . They all have a little bit different playing style, but they were all productive," Belichick said. "It certainly helps our linebacker play when the defensive line plays consistent and they can do a good job in front and then the linebackers can do a good job and then the secondary can fit off them, so it works in front of that. 

"But, I thought our defensive line did a lot of good things yesterday. There’s still a lot of things we need to work on, obviously. I’m not saying we’re there yet, but we did a lot of good things up front."

Coming into the game allowing 5.0 yards per rushing attempt, what the Patriots were able to accomplish against the Jets in the run game -- behind a stout performance by Brown and his teammates in the trenches -- can certainly qualify as a step in the right direction.