Pats Nation: Week 5 vs. Cleveland Recap
I'm not going to overreact because, well, it was the Cleveland Browns, but Tom Brady's return to the field on Sunday was probably his best performance since Super Bowl 49. There was a lot of talk from reporters and "experts" alike saying that Tom would be rusty or take at least a couple of games to get into a groove. They couldn't have been more wrong. In front of a Cleveland crowd that clearly had more Patriots fans than Browns fans, Brady relished the moment and put the league on notice that it was going to be a long rest of the season. He also put to bed any notion that Jimmy G would unseat him as the #1 QB in NE anytime soon, because he was clearly in another league. This was an all-around team win, but the game ball obviously goes to #12 for a stellar performance after missing the team's first 4 weeks.
There was a drastic difference in the game plan from a week ago against Buffalo for obvious reasons, and everyone benefitted from Brady's return. Most notably, the devastating Tight End combo of Gronk and Marty B was uncoverable against Cleveland's LBs and Safeties. In Gronk's first 4 games on the season, he had 1 catch for 11 yards. Sunday against the Browns, he totaled 5 catches for 109 yards including one signature Gronk catch and run where he dragged defenders down to the 1-yard line. Martellus Bennett, who is already the team's leader in Receiving Yards and Touchdowns, hit pay dirt 3 times in the game and witnessed firsthand the benefits of playing with Gronkowski. This was most evident on Bennett's second TD when Gronk drew a double team inside the 10 yard line. Marty was left in single coverage with a LB, and he's going to win that matchup every time. Chris Hogan (the other white WR besides Jules and Danny for those who don't know him) didn't find the endzone but hauled in 114 of Brady's 406 yards passing. James White did an admirable job in the "Dion Lewis role" as the 3rd down back, and Edelman was his usual 3rd down menace. I'm not just saying this because I'm a Pats fan, but I really don't know how teams will stop this offense once Gronk, Bennett, Edelman, Lewis/White, Hogan, and Brady hit their stride.
On the defensive side of the ball, I have to admit Cleveland's first drive really pissed me off. They marched down the field and ended it with a Cody Kessler TD after rookie Cyrus Jones was burned badly on a corner route. My first thought after the Bills game was "here we go again", but the Defense got it together after that. That was in large part due to the fact that the Browns basically had a revolving door at QB, with 3 different players taking snaps. Kessler was knocked out of the game by Dont'a Hightower on the same exact hit that Jimmy G took, and then Charlie Whitehurst was knocked out next with what looked like a hyperextended knee. So by the end of the game, it was Terrelle Pryor who was taking the snaps, and when that happens they're simultaneously taking their #1 WR out of the picture. Speaking of Terrelle Pryor, that man is legit. He was the one bright spot I saw on the Browns' offense, and his mix of speed and leaping ability make him a very tough matchup. Besides that, Isaiah Crowell and the league's #1 rushing attack was kept in check.
I'm interested to see how we perform this Sunday against a more formidable opponent in the Bengals. They're definitely looking weak as hell so far this year (see last game vs Dallas) but they're at least up a weight class from Cleveland. It was good to see my QB out there again, and even better to see him flourish. The Patriots have a tough schedule ahead and Brady will need to be at his best if he wants Goodell to hand him his 5th Lombardi Trophy. But for now, we'll take it back to the '14 Super Bowl winning season and say "We're on the Cincinnati".