Monday, October 10, 2016

Brady Returns, Patriots Pick Apart Browns 33-13

It's called "rusty gold"...

Fans of the History Channel's top-rated salvage program American Pickers know that hosts Mike Wolfe and Frank Frtiz travel the country - hell, they even went to Italy once to look at vespas - in search of antique items to sell in their retail shops in Iowa and Tennessee, the introduction to their show advising all of their TV audience that they are in search of what they call rusty gold...

...telling American history one piece at a time - but on Sunday, all it would have taken to find a most valuable piece would have been to be at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio to watch a relic named Tom Brady play quarterback for the New England Patriots.

Now, Brady isn't exactly ancient at thirty-nine years old in context with the average life expectancy of a human being - but in the world of professional football, he is approaching antique status. So when Brady was relegated to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's larger-the-life dog house for the first four games of the season, the expectation was that he would be rusty, even being the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.

But on Sunday, Mike and Frank would have passed him over in favor of old cigar signs, oil cans and dilapidated muscle cars, because if Brady has any rust, if certainly didn't show on the surface.

Brady returned from his four-game exile tan, rested and ready, doing a little American Picking himself as he picked apart the hapless Cleveland Browns for 406 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots walked into the Browns' house and took whatever they wanted enroute to an easy 33-13 victory.

Brady's most effective sidekicks on Sunday were tight ends Rob Gronkowski, who caught five balls for 109 yards, and Martellus Bennett, who caught six passes for 67 yards and three touchdowns, while passing back James White demonstrated that he may just be the player he was in college, leading the team in rushing average with 26 yards on five carries and catching six balls for 63 yards.

In the process, the Patriots showed that they do indeed have the players to be the juggernaut that head ball coach Bill Belichick had envisioned when putting this team together, and that for all of the chatter about temporary starter Jimmy Garoppolo being the second coming, he is nowhere near as polished as Brady.

So much for Rusty gold, but don't tell Brady that.

"I think there was plenty of rust out there." Brady confessed, though it really wasn't conspicuous, "I could do better in a lot of areas."

Perhaps the most impressive thing about how the Patriots' offense operated with Brady under center is that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels maintained the balance that the team enjoyed with Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett filling in, calling thirty-five running plays in contrast to 41 passing attempts, even though lead back LeGarrette Blount had no room to run, picking up only 37 yards on 18 carries...

...just enough to keep the Browns' pass rush from pinning their ears back and coming after Brady, as the threat of the run made the play action a staple of the passing game, helping an offensive line protect Brady despite the fact that right tackle Cam Fleming was making his first start of the season and the interior of the line had been shuffled around before game time.

The deep ball was also in play for New England, as newcomer Chris Hogan caught two Brady bombs to set up touchdowns as part of his four catch, 114 yard performance, hauling in perfect tosses that went for 43 and 63 yards, while Gronkowski and Bennett each had huge catch and run long balls, both having plays going for 37 yards each, while White had a tightrope walking 34 yard gain.

Gronkowski noted that the attention given to him by the Browns in the form of double teams left the other pass catchers in single coverage, something that Brady exploited relentlessly.

"The two defenders come to me and leave Marty in the red zone one-on-one, so it gives other people opportunities to capitalize on them." Gronkowski said after the game, adding, "He had three touchdowns, I think that's the first time in his career that he's had three."

As for Bennett and his barrel-full-of-monkeys attitude, he continues to integrate himself into an offense that is becoming the aforementioned juggernaut, and is doing so despite coming up lame after suffering an ankle injury early in the game.

"You lay down for a second and feel sorry for yourself, but then you remember all of the people counting on you and then you just kind of find a way to suck it up and go out there and play for those guys." Bennett said with his trademark ear-to-ear grin. "I didn't want to let my teammates down."

Offensively, the Browns had decent balance as well, but it didn't work out in their favor.

The game plan coming in for New England's defense was obviously to stop Cleveland's top-shelf running game and force the Brown's gaggle of backup-quality quarterbacks beat them through the air - and it worked to perfection as New England held the Browns' to just 27 rushing yards on 22 carries, an average of 1.2 yards per carry, with the NFL's second-leading rusher Isaiah Crowell's longest gain a modest six yards.

Cleveland's passing attack was more efficient with the Patriots' focus being on Crowell, as three quarterbacks combined for twenty completions on 35 attempts, the big plays going to tight end Gary Barnidge, while Andrew Hawkins and Connor Hamlett hauled in scores.

In addition to being an integral part of stopping Crowell, Patriots' nose tackle Malcom Brown consistently beat center John Greco - a converted tackle - getting under the 6' 5" Greco's pads and getting the face of the Browns' signal callers, collecting two sacks while Big Nickle safety Pat Chung and nickle linebacker Elandon Roberts shut down the second level in both the running and passing games.

As a unit, the defense kept wide receiver Terrell Pryor in check as he caught five balls for 48 yards until he was forced to fill in at quarterback after starter Cody Kessler and his backup Charlie Whitehurst were knocked out of the game on hits by middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower and defensive end Jaball Sheard, respectively.

And while the Patriots' defense did give up some decent gains by the Browns in the passing game - mostly due to their concentration on the running game - they still managed to hold Cleveland to a putrid 5 of 13 on third down and lowered their points yielded per game to a miserly fourteen, good for fourth in the NFL.

Sunday also marked the return of defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who was similarly suspended by the league for the first four games, but given the experience and incredible depth at the end of the line, the Patriots were able to rotate the 32 year old Ninkovich for just one-third of the total defensive snaps.

Perhaps it's time for the guys from American Pickers to visit New England once again, the region being one of their favorites due to the amazing stuff they find in the thousands of old barns - and maybe making a stop in Foxborough, Massachusetts, where Brady and his rusty gold arm will be on display at Gillette Stadium next Sunday...

...taking on the Cincinnati Bengals, and Brady making history, one throw at a time...

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