FOXBOROUGH — Asked to slow down record-setting receiver Josh Gordon for most of Sunday’s game, Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib got off to a fast start, holding the Browns star to no catches for the first 25 minutes.
Gordon ended up getting his, and then some — seven catches for 151 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown — but because it was part of a 27-26 Patriots win, Talib was quick to offer praise, looking back on his day-long battle with respect and appreciation.
“It was great,” Talib said. “He’s a hell of a player. He’s young , he’s going to make some noise in this league, man, he’s pretty good.”
Gordon entered the game on an absolute tear — 498 receiving yards the past two games, 623 yards the past three; both are NFL records. Now he has another mark; with Sunday’s 151 yards added in, Gordon’s 774 receiving yards are the most ever in a four-game stretch. He set the Browns season record for receiving Sunday with an 18-yard gain late in the first half.
Talib and Gordon got tangled up on a third-quarter play that ended up being the game’s first touchdown. Talib was called for defensive holding, a penalty the Browns declined when tight end Gary Barnidge ran past the duo and raced 40 yards for a touchdown that made it 12-0.
“[Gordon] grabbed my facemask and pulled me down, I pulled him down,” Talib said. “They called it on me. It went like that all night.”
Stevan Ridley returns
Running back Stevan Ridley, who sat out last week’s game at Houston after losing fumbles in the previous three games, was back in uniform and carried the ball eight times, tied with LeGarrette Blount for most on the team. Ridley gained 35 yards, added a 2-yard reception and most importantly, didn’t cough up the ball.
Ridley didn’t start, making his first appearance on the Patriots’ third drive of the game, gaining 2 yards on the initial play. Not counting fourth-down punts, Ridley was on the field for 16 of the Patriots’ 81 offensive snaps.
Repeating his stance of the entire week after he was made inactive against the Texans, Ridley declined to speak with the media after the game.
Brandon Bolden an inactive
With rookie receiver Aaron Dobson and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon ruled out before Sunday’s game, the Patriots needed to designate five more players to make up the seven-member inactive list.
Running back Brandon Bolden, who missed Friday’s practice for what the team said was a non-injury reason, was made inactive, despite being listed as probable to play. That opened the door for Ridley, still the team’s leading rusher, to return.
The other four to sit were rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who left the Texans game with a hip injury and was limited in practice, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), and a pair of healthy scratches: linebacker Steve Beauharnais and defensive lineman Jake Bequette.
Those decisions also paved the way for receiver Austin Collie and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard to play. Collie was signed on Wednesday, and Dennard spent two days last week in Nebraska to handle a pair of legal matters.
For the Browns, quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Alex Tanney were inactive. Weeden (concussion) had been ruled out Friday; Tanney was signed Nov. 26. With Jason Campbell starting, the Browns’ backup quarterback was Caleb Hanie, who was signed Tuesday.
Dobson, who has now missed the last two games with a foot injury, watched from the press box level along with Thompkins and Hoomanawanui, and had a walking boot on his left foot.
The game might be remembered just as much for the injury to Rob Gronkowski as the unlikely comeback win, but the Patriots didn’t appear to lose anybody else to serious injury.
Dennard left the game in the first quarter after injuring his left arm, but he returned in the second quarter. Fullback James Develin was injured after catching a career-long 31-yard pass in the second quarter, headed to the locker room for evaluation, then returned after missing one series. One week after scoring his first NFL touchdown, Develin didn’t have any carries but did play 17 snaps.
Miss by Billy Cundiff
Billy Cundiff always will be remembered by Patriots fans for his missed field goal at the end of the AFC Championship Game Jan. 22, 2012, which if successful would have forced overtime but instead sent the Patriots to Super Bowl XLVI.
Cundiff, then with the Ravens, was sent out once again for a big late-game kick at Gillette Stadium, this time by his new team, the Browns. This one came with 1 second left, from 58 yards, and with the Browns trailing by 1 point. The attempt was perfectly on line, but came up about 5 yards short.
“If I could have that ball the rest of the year for every kick, I would be extremely happy. I just know when I looked up I expected to make it,” Cundiff said. “I don’t think [the pressure] had any effect on the final field goal, but 24 degrees and 58 yards had more of an effect.”
Tom Brady shines
Tom Brady threw for 418 yards, the sixth time in his career he’s gone over 400. The Browns, who came in with the No. 4-ranked defense, had not allowed a quarterback to throw for even 300 yards in their first 12 games . . . Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, who joined the Patriots Oct. 23, then was promoted from their practice squad Nov. 27 and had three tackles a week ago against the Texans, made his first NFL start. He was credited with six tackles . . . Stephen Gostkowski became the second player in franchise history with at least 200 career field goals. He was 2 for 2, including a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter. Adam Vinatieri (262) has the most field goals for the Patriots . . . Ryan Allen’s punting average was just 40.0 yards on five kicks, but three of his punts were inside the Browns’ 20-yard-line, and only one kick was returned, for 1 yard . . . Spotted before kickoff was Browns quarterback — and former Patriot — Brian Hoyer, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve Oct. 12 with a knee injury. Hoyer backed up Brady from 2009-11, but didn’t see the field much. In his three seasons with the Patriots, Hoyer was 27 for 43 for 286 yards and one touchdown. He started three games for the Browns this season before getting injured . . . There was a moment of silence held for Nelson Mandela before the pregame national anthem.