CLEVELAND - It is our duty to report the details and outcome of the sporting event held Nov. 12, 2000, at Cleveland Browns Stadium. We were there. There is evidence the Patriots were not.
No pithy commentary or harsh criticism is necessary. The score speaks volumes: Browns 19, Patriots 11.
The Patriots’ record, too, is self-explanatory: 2-8.
For historical reference, the players were asked to rank yesterday’s loss in the annals of Patriots’ lowlights. Troy Brown, an eight-year veteran, said it’s never been as bad as this.
“It’s as bad as it gets” said Brown. “We’re supposed to be getting better but we’re not making any progress. It’s frustrating to go out there and not execute. There are expectations of coming in here and beating this team. Instead, we come in and they do what they wanted to do.”
The controversy surrounding the decision to play Drew Bledsoe with an injured right thumb turned into the worst possible scenario for the Patriots.
Was it stubbornness by the coaching staff to play Bledsoe (21 for 35 for 212 yards, one touchdown, an interception, three fumbles and four sacks)? Why wasn’t Michael Bishop dressed? Despite hyping John Friesz all week, how much faith does the coaching staff have in Friesz if an injured Bledsoe was the best option?
“I knew he [Drew] was going to play,” said Terry Glenn. “He had been throwing the ball so that wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was the number of times we turned the ball over. We’re not playing well. I think Charlie [Weis] devised a good game plan again, but we didn’t go out and execute it. When you’re turning the ball over like that, you’re going to lose the game. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing.”
The turnovers were killers: A fumbled snap by Bledsoe at the Cleveland 31-yard line as the Patriots were driving in the second quarter; a hit from behind resulted in another Bledsoe fumble; a bobble by Kevin Faulk, who mishandled a pitchout deep in Browns’ territory; and a Bledsoe interception thrown into the arms of defensive tackle Darius Holland.
There were strange defensive penalties. Veteran nose tackle Henry Thomas was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for mimicking the snap count.
“There was a shift in the backfield so I yelled `back set!’ and for that I get a 15-yard penalty,” said Thomas. “I didn’t shout back the snap count. Even if I had, you’re supposed to get a 5-yard penalty for that, not a 15-yarder.” The penalty led to the Browns’ first score, a 39-yard field goal by Phil Dawson, a former Patriot, who nailed four field goals.
Defensive end Bobby Hamilton was called for illegal use of hands on second and 14, which gave the Browns a first down at the Patriots’ 34. That drive ended with the Browns scoring on a 9-yard pass from Doug Pederson to Aaron Shea with 4:09 left in the second quarter, giving the Browns a 10-3 lead.
The Browns, losers of seven straight following a 2-1 start, had a great game plan against Bledsoe. Did Browns coach Chris Palmer, Bledsoe’s old quarterbacks coach (1993-96), get into his head? Belichick and Bledsoe would not blame the injury for Bledsoe’s fumbles or the interception. It must have been the tough schemes Browns defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel devised to stop Bledsoe. Crennel was the Patriots’ defensive line coach from 1993-96.
“I’ve been around Drew enough to know when you’re coaching against him if you don’t give him the utmost respect, he’ll pick you apart. I don’t know how hurt he was but he was throwing the ball very well,” said Palmer.
The Patriots played without defensive end Willie McGinest (calf injury) and middle linebacker Ted Johnson (hamstring pull). The Patriots had to play numerous combinations on defense. Nose tackle Chad Eaton played tackle in the 4-3 defense, and Thomas played the nose position. Rob Holmberg played the middle and Lawyer Milloy was playing what resembled a linebacker position. Usually a sure tackler, Milloy missed Shea on his touchdown.
Holland’s interception was certainly a turning point in the game.
“The guy read it well, put his hands up, and just made a good play,” Bledsoe said. “My thumb had no effect in it.”
The score was 3-3 when Bledsoe dropped back on third and 4 and tried to throw over Holland. The Browns took over at the Patriot 41 and marched down the field with Jamel White picking up 32 yards on five carries. Shea capped the drive by running through Milloy’s tackle.
On the Patriots’ next possession, Bledsoe connected with Glenn for 15 yards and Brown for 6. On second and 4, Bledsoe was hit from behind by former Boston College lineman Stalin Colinet and fumbled at the Browns’ 31.
Dawson punched in a 43-yard field goal, giving the Browns a 13-3 lead at the half.
The next drive-killer came at the Browns’ 6 with 9:30 remaining in the third quarter. Bledsoe pitched wide right to Faulk, but the ball clanged off his chest and was recovered by Cleveland’s Orpheus Roye, who was within one tackle of taking it 94 yards. The fumble was charged to Bledsoe.
“It doesn’t matter what time it is, the fumble is really big no matter what the situation is,”said Faulk.
The Patriots had started the drive at their 36 and made three first downs, which included a 16-yard run by J.R. Redmond on which he suffered a rib injury and did not return.
A 30-yard punt return by Dennis Northcutt later in the third quarter led to Dawson’s third field goal (a 35-yarder), making it 16-3.
The Patriots mounted a fourth-quarter rally as Bledsoe found Faulk five times with the Browns in a prevent defense. The 12-play, 73-yard drive culminated in a 2-yard pass from Bledsoe to tight end Rod Rutledge. Faulk rushed for the 2-point conversion, but 19-11 was as close as the Patriots would get.