Tom Brady’s return from his ‘Deflategate’ suspension quickly turned into a Boston massacre of the Browns.
Not even Clipboard Jesus could save Cleveland Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler was knocked out of the game late in the first quarter, New England tight end Martellus Bennett caught 3 touchdowns and Brady threw for 406 yards as the Patriots rolled to 33-13 victory to improve to 4-1 and keep the Browns the NFL’s lone winless team.
“That is what we are chasing,” Browns head coach Hue Jackson said. “We have a ways to go. I get that, but to be able to play against an organization and a team that kind of demonstrates what you want to be someday, it was right there for us all to see. We have to grow from this, our team does.”
The 0-5 start by the Browns matches the second worst start to a season for the franchise since 1999. The Browns also started 0-5 in 2012 and were 0-7 in 1999.
You could say that Brady, who topped 400 yards for the eighth time in his career, wasted no time sucking the air out of the stadium, but there were moments of the game it sounded like it was being played in Foxborough.
Brady came out firing on the opening drive completing 4 of his first 5 passes, including a 34 yard catch-and-run to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who broke 3 tackles, that saw the drive capped by running back LeGarrette Blount’s 1 yard plunge. Brady finished his second drive with a 7-yard TD to Bennett to chants of “Brady, Brady” from the sellout crowd.
Brady went 14 of 17 for 248 yards and 2 TDs on his first 4 drives before Blount got stopped in his tracks on fourth-and-goal at the 1 to keep the Browns within 2 scores at the 6:07 mark of the second quarter.
“It’s not a good feeling at all,” cornerback Joe Haden, who got beat for 63 yards on a second quarter throw from Brady to receiver Chris Hogan, said. “Especially being a defensive back, I don’t like that. It sucks. We have got to figure out a way to fix it. It is what it is. He came in here and did his thing.”
Kessler found Andrew Hawkins open for an 11-yard score to tie the game at 7. The 9 play, 75 yard drive was a nice answer to the Patriots opening salvo and provided one of very few highlights for the home team.
It was all downhill from there for Kessler and the Browns.
Kessler was knocked out of the game with 1:20 to play in the opening quarter after getting drilled by New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower in the sternum. He went to the locker room with chest and rib injuries after fumbling and recovering the ball in the end zone for a safety that give the Patriots a 16-7 lead.
“It was a screen to the right, and he ran through unfortunately,” Kessler said. “They just called a great defense on that play. I just tried to get rid of it as I was getting hit and it went back in the end zone.”
The Browns’ defense held on 3 straight possessions to end the first half including Stephen Gostkowski missing a 50-yard field goal attempt wide right with 0:12 left in the half to keep the Browns within 16 at intermission.
Brady put the game on ice when he completed the hat trick with Bennett after finding him for a third time to cap their opening drive of the second half with a 37 yard touchdown toss.
“They have some good tight ends, and at the end of the day, they made the plays,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “I take full responsibility and stay accountable for that because I need to play tighter coverage.”
Patriots cornerback Cyrus Jones was kicked out after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with 10:52 left in the third quarter when he got into a scuffle with Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins.
“It was deemed that he threw a punch,” referee Bill Vinovich said via a pool report. “Punch and connect, you are ejected.”
Four plays later Whitehurst threw behind a spinning Duke Johnson, who couldn’t corral the pass, over the middle and it landed in the arms of Patriots safety Patrick Chung at their own 34.
With the game decided, Whitehurst racked up some nice yardage in the second half, including a 17 yard touchdown to tight end Connor Hamlett to make it a 30-13 contest. Whitehurst’s 2-point try to Terrelle Pryor fell incomplete. Whitehurst finished 14 of 24 yards for 182 yards including a TD and interception before limping to the sideline with 3:57 to play due to a knee injury forcing Pryor to finish the drive.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Pryor responded when asked if the Browns were snake-bitten. “Cody was doing a great job. He got hurt. We had (QB) Josh McCown get knocked down. Guys are just getting hurt. That is the way of the league. We just have got to have the next man up.”
Isaiah Crowell, who entered the game as the second-leading rusher in the league with the highest per-carry average, was kept in check. Crowell finished with 22 yards on 13 carries and the Browns, who led the league with 149.3 yards rushing per game, totaled just 27 yards on the ground.
It was that kind of day for the Browns and there are 11 more of these to go.