A bizarro effort for Patriots in 34-14 loss at Cleveland

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A bizarro effort for Patriots in 34-14 loss at Cleveland

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

Ladies and gentlemen, may we present the Bizarro Patriots.

All the accepted truths of the New England Patriots were turned on their head by the Bizarro Pats in their ghastly 34-14 loss to the Browns in Cleveland on Sunday.

You know how the Patriots never beat themselves? How about Rob Gronkowski and Sammy Morris letting a kickoff drop between them -- Gronkowski called for a fair catch and then backed off -- which led to a) Cleveland recovering the ball on the Pats' 19-yard line and b) scoring a touchdown two plays later? Or Gronkowski fumbling away the ball on the Browns' 2-yard line in the final seconds of the first half when the Pats were driving for a touchdown that would have cut their deficit to three points?

You know how the Patriots chew up and spit out rookie quarterbacks with their baffling combinations of hidden coverages and surprise formations? How about Colt McCoy shredding the Pats' defense as he were playing Florida Atlantic, completing 14 of 19 passes for 174 yards and scrambling for 20 more, including a touchdown?

You know how the Patriots have owned the second half of games this year? How about giving up the first 10 points of the last two quarters, turning a 17-7 game into a 27-7 game and ending any hopes of a New England comeback?

And that's just the top of it. Throw in a raft of dropped passes -- Gronkowski and Brandon Tate were particularly butter-fingered -- the Pats' inability to stop Cleveland's bowling-ball fullback, Peyton Hills (29 carries, 184 yards), a worse-than-the-stats-make-it-look performance by Tom Brady (19-of-36, 224 yards, 2 TDs), and you had a road disaster indisguishable from many of the Patriots' away-from-Gillette efforts of 2009 . . . except that, unlike '09, they didn't give it up at the end. This one started early.

How early? Try a 21-yard pass from McCoy to Mohamed Massaquoi on the game's first play, followed by a setting-the-tone 18-yard run from Hillis that had the Browns on the New England 24. The drive stalled and the Browns had to settle for a 38-yard field goal by Phil Dawson and a 3-0 lead.

But any momentum the Pats may have garnered from that stop was gone in the time it took for Gronkowski and Morris to mess up the ensuing kickoff and for the Browns to recover on the New England 19. A 17-yard pass from McCoy to Evan Moore moved it to the 2, and Hillis scored on the next play for a 10-0 lead.

The Patriots were held to 21 offensive yards in the first quarter, but came alive with an 11-play, 79-yard drive that was capped by a one-yard, Brady-to-Aaron Hernandez pass that made it 10-7 in the second. The Browns, however, responded with a 60-yard scoring drive of their own, going ahead 17-7 on an 11-yard run off the wildcat by Chansi Stuckey.

The Pats' last chance to get back in the game ended when Gronkowski had the ball stripped out of his hands on the Cleveland 2 with 20 seconds left in the half, ending a long drive that, had it ended in a touchdown, would have cut Cleveland's lead to 17-14. Instead the half ended 17-7, the Pats had to punt on their first possession of the third quarter, and McCoy put it away by engineering a 72-yard drive that he capped with a 12-yard scramble for a touchdwn that made it 24-7.

The teams then traded touchdowns, with the Pats scoring on a two-yard Brady-to-Hernandez pass and the Browns on a 35-yard run by Hillis.

The good news for the Patriots? Well, the Jets were losing for most of the day, so it looked as New England might have been able to maintain its one-game lead in the AFC East. But even that fell through, as New York rallied, tied the game on a field goal on the last play of regulation, and won it on a field goal in overtime. So New York and New England are tied again . . . and, since the Jets a) beat the Patriots head-to-head and b) have only one conference loss to the Pats' two, New York has several tie-breaking edges, as well.

The bad news? Everything else.

Bizarro indeed.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

NFL combine preview: Tight ends

NFL combine preview: Tight ends

With the NFL combine about to begin -- and the NFL Draft just about two months away -- we'll take a daily look at the collegiate talent available at positions where the Patriots might be looking for help. We start today with: Tight ends.

On Tuesday, players will arrive in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, with on-field workouts beginning Friday. 

The second group to take the field is the tight end group, which should be worth watching for a number of reasons. For starters, Todd McShay says that this is “a good year to need a tight end” given that there could be three first-rounders in O.J. Howard, David Njoku and Jake Butt.

Furthermore, Martellus Bennett’s potential departure and Rob Gronkowski’s durability questions make tight end a position the Patriots could target early come April 27. 

Here’s a quick look at each of the 19 tight ends invited to the combine: 

O.J. Howard, Alabama, 6-foot-6, 249 pounds

- NFL.com describes him as an “exceptionally gifted athlete” and says that his “play speed resembles a wide receiver’s when the ball is in the air.” They add he “appears passive” as a blocker and “need more muscle and mass to be an in-line blocker as a pro.”

David Njoku, Miami, 6-foot-4, 245 pounds

- Not the biggest guy in the world at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, but is considered a top-end athlete. NFL.com says he “should annihilate the combine with monster numbers in speed and explosion.”

Jake Butt, Michigan, 6-foot-6, 250 pounds 

- Does everything well, but could stand to fill out his frame a bit more. 

Jordan Leggett, Clemson, 6-foot-5, 250 pounds

- Not considered a great blocker and has admitted that he’s played lazily. Could the Pats fix his motor? 

Gerald Everett, South Alabama, 6-foot-3, 227 pounds

- Very interesting prospect. Primarily a basketball player in high school who played just one year of football (insert Antonio Gates basketball reference), Everett played at Alabama-Birmingham before the school cut its football program. Upon transferring to South Alabama, Everett showed his skills as a pass-catching tight end. 

Evan Engram, Mississippi, 6-foot-3, 236 pounds

- Itty bitty for a tight end, and he doesn’t have the greatest hands either. Described as a “move tight end only who lacks dependability as a blocker.”   

He was one of five who for second in the nation among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season. Other guys in that group were Njoku, Hayden Plinke,  Cole Hikutini and UMass’ Adam Breneman.

Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech, 6-foot-7, 245 pounds

- Just your average quarterback-turned-tight-end. The lanky Hodges would be a good fit for the Patriots simply because it would give Julian Edelman a break from the constant mention during broadcasts that he used to be a QB. 

Cole Hikutini, Louisville, 6-foot-5, 248 pounds

- A good athlete who isn’t much of a blocker.

Adam Shaheen, Ashland, 6-foot-6, 277 pounds

- Former college basketball player transferred from Pittsburgh-Johnstown to Ashland to focus on football and eventually established himself as a dominant player at the Division II level. He’s certainly got the size and strength, but questions will persist about just how similarly he holds up going from Division II to the NFL. 

Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas, 6-foot-5, 265 pounds

- Big, physical tight end with a solid stiff arm. Sprinkle was suspended by Arkansas for the Belk Bowl because he stole from a Belk department store after each player had been given $450 to spend there. He was arrested for the incident, as he stole $260 worth of extra items.

Pharoh Brown, Oregon, 6-foot-6, 245 pounds

- Not considered the athlete he was prior to a 2014 injury that nearly resulted in his leg being amputated. 

Michael Roberts, Toledo, 6-foot-4, 261 pounds

- Huge hands, which he uses to catch better than block. He led all FBS tight ends with 16 touchdowns last season. 

Jonnu Smith, Florida International, 6-foot-3, 245 pounds

- College career was ended prematurely when his pregnant girlfriend poured boiling water on him, resulting in severe burns throughout his upper body, including his head. He has good speed, but drops were an issue in college. 

Scott Orndoff, Pittsburgh, 6-foot-5, 256 pounds

- Figures to be a solid blocking tight end, but he also had five receiving touchdowns as a senior. 

Eric Saubert, Drake, 6-foot-5, 251 pounds

- Every draft pick is a gamble, but Saubert might be more so than others. An AFC regional scout says that Saubert is “body beautiful but he can’t catch. I don’t think it’s correctable, either.”

Cethan Carter, Nebraska, 6-foot-4, 240 pounds

- Elbow injuries figure to be a topic at the combine, and he had various injuries throughout his college career. 

Darrell Daniels, Washington, 6-foot-4, 246 pounds

- A scout told NFL.com that Daniels is "going to test through the roof and he's going to get overdrafted on the traits.” The Patriots don’t typically fall into such traps. 

George Kittle, Iowa, 6-foot-4, 250 pounds

- Only had one drop as a senior, but then again being believed to have had no drops in college doesn’t make a guy an NFL stud. 

Hayden Plinke, UTEP, 6-foot-4, 265 pounds

- Transferred twice in his college career, starting at Boise State, then Portland State and finally UTEP. Is considered a good blocker who grabbed eight touchdowns as a senior. 
 

Sanu on Patriots' Super Bowl comeback: Lady Gaga's long halftime hurt Falcons

Sanu on Patriots' Super Bowl comeback: Lady Gaga's long halftime hurt Falcons

Three weeks removed from his team blowing a 25-point, second-half lead in the Super Bowl, Mohamed Sanu offered a possible explanation for the Atlanta Falcons losing their edge against the Patriots.

Lady Gaga.

More specifically, it was the half-hour-plus halftime show that interrupted the Falcons' rhythm, the receiver said Friday on the NFL Network's "Good Morning Football."

“Usually, halftime is only like 15 minutes, and when you’re not on the field for like an hour, it’s just like going to work out, like a great workout, and you go sit on the couch for an hour and then try to start working out again,” Sanu said.

Sanu was asked if the delay was something you can simulate in practice. 

"It's really the energy [you can't duplicate]," he said. "I don't know if you can simulate something like that. That was my first time experiencing something like that."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick did simulate it. In his Super Bowl practices, he had his team take long breaks in the middle.

Sanu also addressed the Falcons' pass-first play-calling that didn't eat up clock while the Patriots came back.

"The thought [that they weren't running the ball more] crossed your mind, but as a player, you're going to do what the coach [Dan Quinn] wants you to do." Sanu said. "He's called plays like that all the time."