FOXBORO – (Wire Service Report) – Tom Brady’s triumphant return to the Patriots in Sunday’s 33-13 win over the Cleveland Browns was pretty much everything a New England fan could ask for. But, even with Brady notching his eighth career 400-yard passing day in Cleveland after missing the first month of action because of his four-game Deflategate suspension, the quarterback’s insatiable drive for football perfection left him wanting more.
“I think there was plenty of rust out there. I could do better in a lot of areas,” Brady said after the victory that has the Patriots tied for the best record in the AFC.
“I think it was a good win today. It was one game, and like I said, 4-1 is a good point to be at for us. We have a long road ahead so we have to stay focused.”
Brady drove the Patriots 80 yards in seven plays on his first drive of the year to take a 7-0 lead, completing four of five throws for 65 yards on the march before LeGarrette Blount’s 1-yard touchdown run. The tone was set and New England never looked back.
By the time Brady was pulled in favor of once-again-healthy backup Jimmy Garoppolo, Brady had completed 28 of 40 throws (70 percent) for 406 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 127.7 passer rating. He also ran twice for 14 yards, including a first-down run that ended with Brady’s emphatic celebration/first down signal on the Browns sideline.
The performance was pretty much what is expected of the future Hall of Fame quarterback, even if he is now 39 and coming off the circumstances of the scandalous suspension. All the paparazzi photos aside, Brady embraced the normalcy of returning to his job last week and the field on Sunday.
“I was trying to focus on my job and what I had to do. It felt like a normal week for me once I got into it. It’s fun to come out and play and come out and win,” Brady said.
Maybe the only thing that Brady was not able to do, or at least not willing to do, was address the conclusion of his Deflategate suspension or what the two-year debacle really meant.
“This isn’t the time for me to reflect. I’m just happy we won today and I’m happy when we win anytime we play. I have a job to do and there is no point in looking back at anything, whether we won Super Bowls or lost championship games. The last four weeks, none of it matters,” Brady said.
What matters is that Brady is back doing Brady things in New England. Despite what he said, the quarterback looked far more rested and ready than rusty.
And with Brady hitting newcomer Martellus Bennett with three touchdown passes and Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan getting for 100-plus receiving yards each, the Patriots’ passing attack is rounding into its potential heading toward the midpoint of the season. The quarterback queries of the first month of the season are in rearview mirror along with the veteran quarterback’s suspension.
–Tight end Rob Gronkowksi had just one reception in the two games he played with Patriots rookie third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. After missing the first two games of the year to a hamstring injury and then easing his way back into action for two weeks, the return of Tom Brady brought the return of big production for New England big, All-Pro tight end.
Gronkowksi had a pair of catches for 53 yards on the Patriots’ opening drive to a touchdown. He finished the day with five catches for 109 yards, while also drawing coverage from the Browns at times that helped fellow tight end Martellus Bennett score three times.
“I felt a lot better out there this week and now I’m getting back to my old self, so I feel great,” Gronkowski said after his breakout day. “I love going out there and love playing football when I’m back to myself.”
It also helped getting his old quarterback back.
“Everyone was intense today. Everyone was amped up. Tom always brings the ampness,” Gronkowski exclaimed, coming up with his own word to describe the day.
REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS
PASSING OFFENSE: A — Tom Brady returned and so did the Patriots offense, improving on everything it accomplished with either Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett filling in. Brady’s first throw of the day went for 10 yards to Julian Edelman. That was followed by a 19-yard toss to Rob Gronkowski and the unit was off and sailing. Brady completed 28 of 40 passes (70 percent) for 406 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 127.7 passer rating. He completed at least two passes to seven different targets, led by six connections for 67 yards and three touchdowns to tight end Martellus Bennett. Rob Gronkowski (five catches for 109) and Chris Hogan (four catches for 114 yards) each topped the century mark, while Bennett (37 yards), Gronkowski (37), Hogan (63) and running back James White (36) all hit for big plays. Brady was only sacked once and the Browns could do little to slow down the invigorated Patriots passing attack before the veteran quarterback called it a day midway through the fourth quarter.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D — As good as the passing game was, New England’s rushing attack never got on track in Cleveland. Aside from LeGarrette Blount’s 1-yard scoring run to close the opening scoring drive, there was little production. Blount had a game-high 18 carries for just 37 yards (2.7 average), and that included a 13-yard long. Overall New England ran it 33 times for 101 yards for just a 3-yard average when removing kneel-downs. James White was the long bright spot on the ground, running five times for 26 yards. Otherwise Blount getting stuffed twice from the Cleveland 1 on third and four down, failing to punch in the score, was symbolic of a lackluster day from the Patriots’ runners and their offensive line.
PASS DEFENSE: C — With Cleveland starting rookie quarterback Cody Kessler and then turning things over to veteran backup Charlie Whitehurst, the Browns aerial attack wasn’t an immense challenge for the Patriots’ pass defense. Kessler did lead a drive that ended with Andrew Hawkins’ touchdown while notching a 126 passer rating before leaving to injury. But overall, New England’s defense was good enough considering the competition and the lead it had. Overall the group limited big plays — Cleveland had just three completions over 20 yards — and was better getting off the field on third down as the Browns converted on just five of 13 chances. Patrick Chung hauled in his first interception of the season. Second-year defensive tackle Malcom Brown recorded a pair of sacks. Utilizing a variety of personnel in the back end that included rookie cornerbacks Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones, the Patriots’ secondary was competitive all afternoon, even if there is clear room for improvement.
RUSH DEFENSE: A — The Browns entered the game averaging nearly 150 yards per game on the ground, the top rushing attack in the NFL. Stopping that was the clear focus of the New England defense and they achieved that goal. Cleveland ran it 22 times in the losing effort for just 27 yards, a 1.2-yard average for a team that came in averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The Patriots used a lot of fronts with three defensive tackles — Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and undrafted rookie practice-squad call-up Woodrow Hamilton — that helped hold Isaiah Crowell to a mere 22 yards on 13 attempts, just a 1.7-yard average for a player who had been averaging 6.5 per rush on the season. New England linebackers also tackled well, including sixth-round rookie Elandon Roberts, who had a team-high seven tackles in his most extensive playing time of the young season. Branch also continued his impressive start to the year with a pair of tackles for a loss on a dominating day for the Patriots defensive front.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C — A year ago Stephen Gostkowski missed three field goals all season, his first miss coming in late November. Sunday in Cleveland the All-Pro missed from 50 yards out, his third miss in just five games this fall. Though he also hit from 31 yards later in the win, the veteran’s early-season struggles are a growing concern, especially dating back to a shaky summer and a missed PAT in last January’s AFC Championship Game loss in Denver. Punter Ryan Allen also didn’t have his best day after two really impressive weeks, this time notching a 36.8 net average on five punts with just one kick downed inside the 20. New England got just a pair of 9-yard returns on kickoffs from Julian Edelman and Devin McCourty, although the former did have a 12-yard punt return. Punt and kickoff coverage was solid, as has come to be expected, but overall it was a lackluster day that included yet another missed field goal.
COACHING: A — Bill Belichick was tough on his team all week after the ugly loss to the Bills and also made it clear internally and through the media that Brady’s return wasn’t the cure-all some would make it out to be. While the last part is up for debate, New England certainly came out ready to play on both sides of the ball in Cleveland. Offensively Josh McDaniels’ game plan got back to more of the spread looks that Brady has utilized so successfully over the years and took full advantage of the personnel mismatches at tight end. Defensively Matt Patricia’s unit was tasked with stopping the run and did just that on the way to a solid day, even if the pass defense could have been better. Belichick made sure his team had the right mindset in what could have been more of a circus-like week for Brady’s return, one of the real strengths of the New England coach’s success leading the Patriots.