FOXBORO -- In a matter of seconds, the Browns defense went from something resembling a "prevent" mentality to having to defend their own goal line at all costs.
After the Patriots recovered their onside kick down 26-21 with one minute and one second remaining in the game, the Browns knew they were still in pretty good shape. New England had to go 40 yards in 61 seconds with no timeouts.
"We were just playing back, making sure they didn't get over the top of us," Browns cornerback Joe Haden said, "coming down making tackles."
But after a 10-yard completion to Danny Amendola, Cleveland corner Leon McFadden was called for pass interference on Josh Boyce in the end zone. Suddenly forced into a goal-line defense with 35 seconds left, the Browns called timeout.
They emerged with a nickel package: Five defensive backs and two linebackers to cover New England's three-receiver, one-back, one-tight end formation.
With Amendola motioning from left to right, he joined Julian Edelman on the strong side of the formation, opening up the opportunity for a "pick" play.
At the snap, Edelman broke inside and made a beeline toward Amendola's defender Buster Skrine.
Without making contact with Skrine, Edelman slowed the Cleveland corner down just enough to give Amendola an opening at the goal line. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hit Amendola in stride, and Amendola fell into the end zone for what proved to be the game-winning score.
Haden, who covered Edelman on the play, explained that the Browns weren't necessarily expecting that kind of route. According to what Cleveland knew going into the play, Patriots receivers were normally lined up much closer together if one was going to be setting a pick for the other.
"They didn't have pick splits," Haden said. "They were far apart. And when they come through like that, running those pick plays, it's really hard to defend. Especially if you only need one yard. If he needed anything more than one yard, we would've made the tackle. But that was a really good play."
The Browns explained that they may have been able to play that particular pass differently. It's not an impossible route to defend, they insisted.
Whether defensive backs choose to stick with the receiver they're lined up on or swap depends on the situation, explained Browns corner Jordan Poyer, who watched Amendola's score from the sideline.
"Sometimes the low guy can take the guy in the back," Poyer said. "Sometimes you can lock it and possibly get rubbed. It depends on how you play it. If you play it right, then the outcome will come on the defense's side. If you play it wrong, that's what happens."
Haden harped on the fact that the Patriots did something they hadn't done before when Amdendola and Edelman ran a pick after standing about five yards apart when the ball was snapped.
When the Patriots add a new look to their variety of existing offensive sets, Haden explained, it's hard not to give up at least a yard.
"They got so many plays," Haden said. "Usually when they do those picks, they line up in a pick split and they're a little closer. They were really far away from each other."