Report Card time and I think we've heard and read enough about Tom Brady's body language and yelling on the sidelines and the press conference after the game Sunday. Who cares? Brady was pissed and frustrated and acted exactly like he did when things didn't go well in 2003 and 2005 or last year or his junior year at San Mateo. Perfectly natural reactions and I saw absolutely no difference whatsoever from years past. And it has nothing to do with Randy Moss or anything else people are going to try to make it about this week. You're reaching. Leave it alone.
With that, to the report card we go, and I guess I want some feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org, but please do so gently -- I'm fragile and still in shock after some of the comments and emails I received after writing that Brady and Bill Belichick may have had an off-day in the Browns loss. "Half-assed urban cupcake?" "The worst writer in Boston today?" "Champion of assclowns?" After reading the feedback I staggered around for a half-hour like Jeff Bridges after he got off the plane in "Fearless." Killing me with kindness I think would be the way to go from here. Just a suggestion. …
QUARTERBACK -- C-
I'm sorry, the numbers for Tom Brady (19-of-36, 224 yards, two TDs) just don't give an accurate picture of how poorly he played at times on Sunday. If we say and write that stats don't always measure how great Brady has been over his career -- and I think that's true -- you have to be fair and call out when he doesn't play as well as the stats might suggest.
In the first quarter, Brady completed one of six passes for 10 yards and failed to convert on all three third-down plays as the Browns jumped out to a 10-0 lead. And just the whiff of pressure seemed to throw Brady off all game. He short-armed a couple of throws to Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski and seemed to have some communication issues with Welker, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And here's why you can't always look at passer rating when judging how a QB played: Brady had two TD passes on Sunday -- a poor throw to Gronkowski that deflected into the hands of Hernandez and a two-yard toss to Hernandez to cut the lead to 27-14 and cap off a stat-stuffing drive against a soft zone with just under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Yes, the receivers dropped a disturbing number of balls (more on that later) and the O-Line wasn't perfect, but Brady was far from vintage, and right now the Patriots need him to be great (or at least make the key throws he delivered against San Diego, Baltimore and the Vikings) to win games. And going 3-for-11 on third-downs isn't going to get it done.
RUNNING BACKS -- C+
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (nine carries, 14 yards) was the feature back for the first two drives on Sunday, but he couldn't get on track and spent a great majority of the final three quarters on the bench. Danny Woodhead (nine carries, 54 yards) was the lead back for both TD drives, making two Browns defenders miss on a 26-yard catch on a third-and-3 that moved the Pats to the Cleveland 33 on the first New England TD. Woodhead got the second TD drive started with a 12-yard catch and an 11-yard run to move the ball into Browns territory. Sammy Morris had his first real impact play of the season on offense, catching a fourth-and-1 pass from Brady for a 22-yard pickup (aggressive play-call and a good one -- they shifted Hernandez from the right to left side before the snap and two Cleveland defenders followed him, allowing the opening for Morris).
RECEIVERS -- C-
Too many drops. Brandon Tate was a lot more Chad Jackson than Randy Moss on Sunday, dropping a pair of passes, including a killer on a terrific Brady throw on third-and-long in the third quarter with the Pats down, 24-7. Hernandez had an easy drop on the second TD drive and a not-so-easy drop on a touch pass from Brady over the middle in the third quarter. Three drops from Rob Gronkowski as well, who had a brutal afternoon.
Wes Welker (four catches, 36 yards) just doesn't have any room to operate without Moss taking a couple of defenders with him. Sure, I guess the knee is a factor, but I really think the bigger issue is that Welker has now become the guy opposing defenses make sure to take out of the game.
The biggest play of the game from a Patriots perspective was the fumble by Gronkowski at the Cleveland two-yard line at the end of the first half. Without the fumble the Pats are looking at a worst-case scenario of being down 17-10 at the half, and a TD cuts the lead to 17-14 (and remember, the Patriots got the ball to start the second half). Tough to get on a guy for trying to fight for extra yards, but Gronkowski has to recognize that in that situation it's just not worth the risk.
Aaron Hernandez had his first two career touchdown catches, including a highlight special on the first, managing to get both feet down right in front of the back line in the end zone after a pass intended for Gronkowski was deflected. Best game in a month for Hernandez, who finished with five catches for 48 yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE -- B-
Logan Mankins played well in his 2010 debut, taking the majority of the snaps (he was replaced by Dan Connolly for a series in each half) and leading the way on several Woodhead runs (and giving Brady time with a good block on the first Hernandez TD catch -- watch the play again and the amount of time Brady had to make that throw is really unusual for a goal-line play).
Stephen Neal was bulldozed by Ahtyba Rubin for a sack on Brady, the only sack of the game allowed by the O-Line (and the first of the last two weeks). Watching the game live on Sunday I did not expect to be impressed with the effort of this group on the second viewing (Green-Ellis wasn't able to find any room, Brady seemed rushed) but it was actually a pretty solid effort all around.
DEFENSIVE LINE -- D
This might actually be a generous grade. I mean, 230 yards rushing allowed and zero quarterback sacks? (And McCoy wasn't even hit, according to the stat sheet.) I understand that the linebackers are to blame for a lot of what Peyton Hillis and Colt McCoy were able to do Sunday, but the defensive line was simply handled by the O-Line (a very good one) of Cleveland. They just got pushed around from the start, as Hillis ran through a huge hole and right past Vince Wilfork (starting at end with Myron Pryor on the nose) for an 18-yard gain on the Browns first rush. Jermaine Cunningham forced the fumble on Peyton Hillis in the opening quarter, but he really struggled trying to slow the back down on the edge and spent some time on the bench in the second half. Ron Brace actually had a few positive moments, collecting a solo tackle on Josh Cribbs out of the Wildcat formation and, even though Hillis was able to get into the end zone from two yards out in the first quarter, getting through the line to slow Hillis down and give someone a chance to make a play (instead it was Brandon Spikes being run over by Hillis on his way to the end zone).
LINEBACKERS -- D
Jerod Mayo had his problems with Hillis in pass coverage, losing the battle on a couple of key third-down conversions -- including back-to-back third quarter third-downs, the second of which saw Hillis lined up as a wideout and blowing by Mayo on the sideline for a 20-yard gain. Brandon Spikes just could not stop Hillis -- in addition to the TD rush he whiffed on Hillis on the 18-yard opening run, missed another third-and-2 tackle on the opening drive and was way out of position on the game-icing 35-yard TD run.
SECONDARY -- C+
Not much from the Browns wide receivers (Mohamed Massaquoi had four catches to lead the Browns) and the secondary played a part in forcing the only Browns turnover of the game (McCourty had Hillis wrapped up when Cunningham made the strip, and the fumble was recovered by Brandon Meriweather). Chansi Stuckey seemed a good bet to do damage on Sunday -- slot receivers have gone wild vs. the Pats all season -- but Jonathan Wilhite was key in limiting Stuckey to just a pair of catches for six yards. James Sanders missed an opportunity to make a couple of tackles on Hillis, and it's tough to imagine that a healthy Pat Chung wouldn't have been been a significant upgrade.
SPECIAL TEAMS -- D
The worst special teams performance of the season on Sunday, as a group that has been a huge plus for the Patriots in 2010 made several critical mistakes. Following a first-quarter 38-yard field goal from Phil Dawson to open the scoring, Gronkowski appeared to signal a fair catch on a short Dawson kickoff, but moved away from the ball right before it landed. Sammy Morris tried to get his hands on the ball after it landed, but fumbled (recovered by former Patriots DB Ray Ventrone) at the 19-yard line. The Browns took advantage of the short field with a two-play TD drive. The Patriots to a man seemed as unprepared for that pooch kick as they were for the Wildcat fumblerooski later on.
(And CBS kept showing Morris after the play, first running to the sideline after the play and then after the Hillis TD. Who cares, I guess, but the play was more Gronkowksi's fault than it was Morris. No mention of that from the announcing crew, either. And more CBS nitpicking: How is it possible that the folks watching the game on TV were not informed of the Gostkowski injury until there were just seven minutes left in the game when every beat writer with a Twitter account told us about it in the middle of the second quarter?)
Zoltan Mesko nearly had a punt blocked in the second quarter (the punt traveled just 27 yards) and Jake Ingram had his third terrible snap in as many weeks on another punt (think we'll see a new long snapper with a new kicker?). Gostkowski left the game with that thigh injury, which meant Wes Welker had to handle extra-point (lefty) and kickoff duties. Reports have Gostkowski missing a couple of weeks with the injury, a major league hit to the team. My sources tell me that Scott Sisson is in fact available.
COACHING -- D
As I wrote on Sunday, there was absolutely no reason for Belichick to challenge the McCoy TD run in the third quarter. Made no sense, just struck me as panic, a "let's just throw the flag and hope" move. If Belichick happens to be right you're looking at a first-and-inches at the six-inch line. Hillis is going to score in that spot. And with six minutes left in the third quarter and the Patriots most likely staring at a 17-point hole, timeouts are needed, and it just isn't worth risking one to challenge a play that is going to lead to a TD anyway.
Look, Mangini outcoached Belichick on Sunday. It happens. Does that mean that Belichick hasn't done a brilliant job this season? Of course not. Does it mean that anyone would ever choose Mangini over Belichick if you had the pick of either to start a franchise tomorrow? Come on. But the Browns were better prepared on Sunday, took more chances, took away what the Pats do best on both sides of the ball and gave Colt McCoy a game plan he could handle.