Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots: Week 14 Observations

Rob Gronkowski was carted off with what looked like a serious knee/leg injury after taking a helmet from T.J. Ward. (Photo: US Presswire)

NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones

It took a dramatic second-half rally, two last-minute touchdown drives, and a successful onside kick attempt, but the New England Patriots improved their record to 10-3 on the season after Browns kicker Billy Cundiff’s fifty-eight yard field-goal attempt fell short. The win is bittersweet, however, as tight end Rob Gronkowski appeared to be lost for the season after Browns strong safety T.J. Ward drove his helmet into the side of Gronkowski’s knee. Read on for five observations from this week’s nail-biter.

1. Patriots win game but lose star tight end Gronkowski to serious injury

As if things couldn’t get any worse for the Patriots, the team lost tight end Rob Gronkowski midway through the third quarter, as Browns strong safety T.J. Ward delivered a helmet to the side of Gronkowski’s knee while the tight end’s leg was planted. Gronkowski’s reaction to the hit indicated that the injury was serious, and he was not able to put any weight onto the leg afterwards, being helped onto a cart after suffering what looks like a season-ending injury, possibly a torn ACL. Gronkowski’s loss is the latest in a strong of crippling injuries the team has had to deal with this season, some of the other notable losses being offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and linebacker Jerod Mayo. Losing Gronkowski, coupled with Michael Hoomanawanui being held out of the game, meant that the Patriots were left with only one tight end, third-stringer Matthew Mulligan; the team released D.J. Williams earlier in the week, making him a logical candidate to return. Fullback James Develin also played some tight end after Gronkowski left.

2. Receivers struggle early, come on strong after Gronkowski’s injury

Although the Patriots had their top three receiving options – Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola – at their disposal this week, the team struggled mightily with drops, with Gronkowski botching what would have been a short completion early in the game and two deep throws hitting Edelman in the hands but resulting in incompletions. Shane Vereen dropped a pass later, and Josh Boyce failed to bring in a screen pass on a third-down play, resulting in a Patriots punt. With Rob Gronkowski seemingly having been lost for the season in the third quarter of this week’s contest, New England needed their receivers to contribute significantly more, and were rewarded with a significantly more productive second half, with touchdown catches from Julian Edelman to cut the lead to five with just over one minute left, and another from Danny Amendola with thirty-one seconds left to take the lead; Josh Boyce also caught three passes for forty-nine yards, then drew a long pass interference call to set up New England on the one-yard line. The Patriots are undoubtedly hoping that they’ll have the services of wideouts Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins before long, both of whom were listed as inactives this week.

3. Running backs star, with Vereen making most significant contributions

With the Patriots down by sixteen points and the third quarter winding down, Tom Brady lofted a pass down the left sideline to running back Shane Vereen, who had burned Browns inside linebacker Craig Robertson downfield, bringing in the pass for a fifty-yard gain. On the next play, Brady found Vereen for sixteen yards on a route over the middle, bringing New England to the six-yard line and setting up a Vereen touchdown run on the next play. Brady found Julian Edelman in the end zone on a successful two-point conversion attempt that cut the lead to eight points. Vereen converted two consecutive first-downs through the air on New England’s next drive of the game, finishing the game well ahead of any other Patriots receiver with his twelve receptions for 153 yards. New England also received some contributions from LeGarrette Blount, who started the game and gained seventy-four yards on nine touches, while Stevan Ridley carried the ball eight times for thirty-five yards in his return, the most notable play being an explosive twelve-yard first-down conversion.

4. Gordon gets the best of Talib in much-anticipated matchup

After being sidelined in recent weeks with a knee injury, Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was active for this week’s contest, although rookie Logan Ryan drew the start opposite Aqib Talib. However, Dennard was forced from the game midway into the first quarter with what the team revealed was a shoulder injury, being held out until after halftime; on the subsequent play, Ryan bit on a double move by Greg Little on what would have been a long touchdown if not for an overthrown pass by Browns quarterback Jason Campbell. Aqib Talib held his own against Josh Gordon in the first half, allowing a twenty-yard completion late in the second quarter but otherwise keeping him in check, making a tackle on third-down to force a Browns punt. Gordon also converted a third-down pass on a crossing route versus Talib with less than a minute left in the half to prevent the Patriots from running a one-minute drill. However, Gordon was able to separate from Talib on a slant and take it the distance, extending Cleveland’s lead to a discouraging sixteen points. After a thirty-four-yard reverse, Gordon separated from Talib late in the fourth quarter on a crossing route, giving the Browns excellent field position with just over three minutes remaining.

5. Cameron repeatedly brings in sideline routes to torture Patriots defense

We mentioned earlier in this week’s Ten Keys preview that the Browns favor sideline routes when they target Jordan Cameron; he caught a fourteen-yard pass down the right sideline after Steve Gregory stumbled on the team’s first drive, bringing the Browns into field goal range, and converted another first down the left sideline with Gregory in coverage later in the first quarter to give the Browns a first down on New England’s twenty-one, having caught another fourteen-yard throw versus Gregory earlier in the quarter. He added another big throw deep down the left sideline in the third quarter with Jamie Collins trailing in zone coverage, bringing Cleveland back into Patriots territory, then fellow Browns tight end Gary Barnidge capitalized on a collision in the secondary (later flagged as illegal hands to the face against Aqib Talib) to score a long touchdown. Cameron resurfaced with just over three minutes left in the game down the sideline, gaining sixteen yards and bringing Cleveland to New England’s six-yard line, then bringing in the eventual touchdown which at the team seemed as though it would seal the deal. With under thirty seconds left, Cameron ran for the sideline again and gave the Browns another critical first-down, and somehow brought down a thirteen-yard pass while being hit by two defenders to offer Cleveland one last field goal attempt. Clearly, the Patriots did not prepare for the types of routes that Cameron would run against them in this game, as he was consistently open on out routes to the sideline.

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15 Responses to “Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots: Week 14 Observations”

  1. jim r says:

    THoughts and prayers that GRONK has a healthy recovery

  2. acm says:

    Gronk officially out for the season with tears to both ACL and MCL.
    The timing of this injury would likely result in him missing all of the 2014 pre-season as well as several games at the beginning of the regular season. Add to this his inability to yet again finish a season and how dependent this O is on TE play, and I think it’s safe to say any ambiguity surrounding the Pats’ 1st round pick is no more.
    Even if Talib leaves, I think they target a TE in the 1st as the quality at the position drops significantly after that, while the draft promises to be pretty deep in CB talent. Doubt Ebron fall to late 1st but one of ASJ or Amaro should be there, imo.

    • steve earle says:

      Gronk can’t catch a break, poor kid! acm, your assessement seems right on the money as usual. Can’t see how Bill can afford to pass on one of the top TE’s with the first now. To bad because if he could have traded down he could have loaded up on alot of really good talent. Well things do happen.

      • acm says:

        Trading out of the 1st would have been my preferred scenario, more often than not, too. But by the looks of it, Gronk could well end up missing the first 10 or so games of the next season. Maybe a veteran TE like D. Clark could be a temporary fix in that regard but then you have to factor in how important Gronk is for the O altogether and his, now “rather rich” history of season-ending injuries. All this considered, getting a long term solution at TE be it to complement Gronk or downright replace him in case of an injury, looks like the smart thing to do.

        I like this DJ Williams guy and think he may become an important contributor for the Pats with a full pre-season in this system. He is a move TW, very much like Hernandez was. So, someone like ASJ in the first, even if Amaro doesn’t declare (personally, I think he will) could well be what the doctor ordered for the Pats.

        OL, DL and CB seem to be relatively deep positions for next year’s draft. another 3-down LB (if BB is looking for one at all) would probably have to come in from free agency. Hard to plan for it now not knowing if Talib and/or Spikes would be back.

        Imo, at this point, Talib has played himself out of too big a contract next year – nothing more than a 3/4 year one at 5-6 mil a pop, I think, if that. Depending on the market, extending him may turn out to be more affordable than previously thought.

        • steve earle says:

          Right about Talib, not a shut down corner by any means, extension most likely but even if he does walk draft is pretty deep in CB’s.
          Gronk’s injury sure does throw our mocks up like a deck of cards and everything is fuzzy until after the all-star games and combine are done.
          As for how Bill approaches the draft nothing would surprise me after all these years. The coach just doesn’t follow “our” rules. ( smiley face here) Doesn’t stop us from our specs and wants and throwing out the, What if’s. That said, nice post, keep up the good ideas.

  3. AndersDK says:

    As a Patriots fan it’s of course nice to get a win … what a comeback … BUT – the loss of Gronk is not good news. Actually, I thought we did not play a very good game. It is as if the defense gets worse and worse – we don’t get pressure on the QB. However, it has been great to see players like J. Boyce and J.Collins get more playing time and actually do alright. We have so much talent on WR this year. Great to see how the young players take responsibility when they experienced profiles are out with injuries. Patriots have once again proven that it takes all 53 players to achieve great results. Great respect for the coaches to always get the best out of the whole squad.

  4. Rmc says:

    As quoted above ‘clearly the patriots were not prepared for Cameron’. This is a result of Matt Patricia’s lack of experience as a DC. If he were to be fired, no team would hire him. This defense is making poor scoring teams look good. Injuries are not an excuse, adjustments have to be made to put the players in the best position to make the plays and he is not doing that. Receivers were wide open all day. This defense is getting worse every game and we still have to play Baltimore and Miami. BB has to do something

    • munchkin says:

      I can understand your frustration Rmc but this once developing defense has taken too many hits. If you don’t think that losing players the caliber of Wilfork, Kelly and Mayo should affect a defense than you need to rethink your position. Dennard is in and out of games, Talib is still banged up and Gregory is trying to get back into form. Too many moving parts to keep any cohesion. None of the teams competing for a playoff spot have suffered the losses this team has to its core group of players. The losses of Culter and Rodgers have hurt their respective teams on an individual basis but those teams haven’t lost the breadth of players the Patriots have; and now Gronk is gone. Also, you can’t overlook Belichick’s input into the weekly game plan; Patricia is not on an island. We have all seen Belichick working with the defense during the games as well. I trust Bill wouldn’t put a coach in charge of a facet of the team that he knows so much about.

      • Rmc says:

        Munchkin I agree that injuries can affect the defense, but I look at the d since MP has become the DC. It has not improved, although BB is adding his input, Patricia is responsible. Just look at some of the teams with good defenses, their coaches have experience in the college level. I just don’t believe that the NFL should not be a training ground for coaches, they should work their way up. Although MP has coached some in college, he has never been a DC at that level or any level before and I think if shows. Just my opinion.

    • steve earle says:

      Yea, the def is driving me and everyone else crazy but I have to agree with munchkin. Can’t single out any individual coach for blame given all the injuries to key players, it’s just asking to much to expect that all goes smooth. Those who say this is the best coaching job BB has ever done can’t be far off. Hang in there and “trust in Bill” is all I can advise.

  5. J H TARBORO says:

    Ugly but great win for Pats
    The secondary played poorly.
    I like this DT Sealver Siliiga.
    Vereen shaping up to be a future slot reciever? Amendola kick rocks!
    Give Ridley the ball more.
    The word compensation comes to mind dealing with the loss of Gronk. Possibly bringing in another TE? Activating WR Mark Harrison or giving a bigger role to FB James Devlin?
    BB, Josh Mc Daniels, and Brady MUST get on same page with these young recievers, it’s all they’ve got!

    • steve earle says:

      Not critical here just a couple questions please? Is “kicks rocks” good or bad? Never heard the term before. Also what do you mean by compensation for Gronk injury? Is there some league rule or policy that does that I don’t know about?

      • ChevSS says:

        I’ve heard kick rocks used like pound dirt, meaning worthless. I don’t think he’s worthless but I do think he’s playing at 65-70% health right now. We need him back and healthy. Edelman has saved our beans this year in the meantime.

        I agree TE has become a big need for next year. Too bad the game was too big for Sudfeld. Let’s not forget about Mark Harrison who could become a move TE in the AHern mode. I have a suggestion for the Pats re: Gronk…the kid needs a nutritionist to teach him about foods that rob his bones, ligaments and tendons of minerals (strength). #1 on the list is alcohol. 100% true.

      • J H TARBORO says:

        Steve E. this is what i meant by that statement, Amendola was brought in as a insurance policy for Welker but we are finding out that Vereen could play that position also, and that could be a home for him next season and that this draft season is loaded full of talent. Amendola is a decent recievers but we paid too much for this guy and also 4 more years of him, we can do much better! Kicking rocks in this instance means after the season, we should move on. Pay Edelman!!! The compensation is more about how use personel in Gronk’s absence.

        • steve earle says:

          In this case I agree with you completely. I was never in favor of bringing in an injury prone Amendola instead of paying Welker. Yes Welker got concussed last week but I would still have taken that risk over a guy who has injury history. Now that we have him though letting him go might just cost more then it’s worth, often these things are. Prob just have to live with but not depend on him being 100% most of the time until it’s cost effective to cut or trade him. Agree Vereen picks the slack and then some.
          Gronk injury throws everything into question but BB usually handles these things well, I hope! I’d like to see Devlin given more oppertunitys. He runs well and makes catches I wouldn’t expect from a FB. He would present a match up problem big time for nickle backs and most corners he also seems to block well.

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