Make it back to back games that the Browns have upset teams with winning records, in doing so, climbing out of the cellar in the AFC North for the first time all year. After knocking off the defending Super Bowl Champions two weeks ago in New Orleans, the Browns, fresh off their bye week, pounded the Patriots winning by a score of 34 – 14. The Patriots came into the game with the best record in the NFL at 6-1.
Give Coach Eric Mangini and his staff the lion’s share of the credit this week, as Mangini out-foxed his former boss and mentor Bill Belichick at every turn. Mangini without a doubt coached his most aggressive game of his tenure with the Browns, which was the key to getting the win. It was a crucial decision to go for it on 4th and 1-yard to go from their own 36-yardline early in the first quarter that set the tone for the game. This uncharacteristically aggressive decision showed that the Browns were not intimidated by the mighty Patriots, and they would not be rolling over for anyone on this particular day. The Browns converted the forth down on a QB sneak by Colt McCoy, and despite a minor hiccup when Peyton Hillis fumbled after a 16-yard run on the very next play, they went onto get the victory.
The Browns also showed aggressiveness using play action passes early in the game, which clearly caught the Pats off guard. Not only were the Browns able to move the ball efficiently through the air, but it softened up the Patriots run defense which teh Browns were able to exploit later in the game. Although McCoy only had 19 pass attempts for the day, 14 of them came in the first half, and his early efficiency was critical to keeping the struggling Patriots defense off balance. At halftime the Browns had built a ten point lead, and it was all about “the Juggernaut” the rest of the way. Hillis iced the game for the Browns and finished with 184-yards rushing including two touchdowns, and another 34-yards receiving.
Two plays that seemed to sum up the entire game both came late in the second quarter. The first came with 3:23 remaining in the half, the Browns had the ball on the Patriots 11-yard line. They lined up in the Wild-Cat formation with Joshua Cribbs under center and WR Chansi Stuckey to his left. With all of the offensive linemen except Center Alex Mack standing upright, Cribbs took the snap and handed to Stuckey. Shielded by the upright offensive linemen, Stuckey was able to escape off left tackle and get in for a touchdown before the Patriots defenders realized what was going on. The other play came on the ensuing possession. The Patriots drove the ball deep into Browns territory. On 1st and goal from the 9-yardline, Tom Brady completed a pass to rookie Tight End Rob Gronkowski who took the ball to the 2-yardline where Browns Safety Abram Elam ripped the ball loose and recovered the fumble. Bottom line, the Browns were more prepared tactically and simply wanted this game more.
Just about everything went right for the Browns. After a field goal on their opening possession, the Browns decided to kick the ball short to avoid the Patriots’ dangerous returner Brandon Tate. The ball bounced between two Patriots and the Browns recovered it. Two plays later, Hillis was plowing into the end zone and the Browns were ahead 10-0.
Even embattled Corner-back Eric Wright, whose poor play has been at the forefront of some of the Browns losses this year, snagged a 4th quarter interception to seal the victory. Wright added two passes defended and five tackles for what was by far his strongest game of the year. In fact, the entire Browns secondary played a strong game, holding the usually accurate Brady to a mere 52.8 completion percentage which is more than ten percentage points below his career average.
Though it is unlikely the Browns will be able to climb back into the playoff race, it would certainly be nice to see them continue to play aggressively. Especially if they decide to let McCoy play out the rest of the year at quarterback, he will be able to develop much quicker if they do not keep him on an unnecessarily short leash. He clearly does not fit the typical mold for an NFL quarterback, however he his energetic and confident play has breathed life into the Browns fan base. After out-dueling two of the leagues best in Drew Brees and Brady in back to back games, the next test for McCoy will be against the blitz happy New York Jets. Can McCoy keep the magic alive and make it three wins in a row against some of the NFL’s elite?
After the past two, it’s starting to feel like no game is out of reach for the bruising Browns.
About the Author
Written by Fran Berkman
Francis (Fran) Berkman is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY with a BS in Human Development. He is currently working towards a master's degree in journalism at Hofstra University. He lives in Massapequa, NY.