FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- The New England Patriots' success isn't
surprising anymore. Not after Sunday's 27-16 win over the Cleveland
Browns, their seventh in nine games.
Where does Troy Brown rank among NFL wide receivers?
Troy Brown is making a case for himself, and he's outstanding on returns too. So he's a dual threat who gives the Patriots big-play potential.
He's New England's go-to guy, the receiver that QB Tom Brady feels most comfortable with. Brown keeps climbing every week with his consistent performances.
ESPN.com's Vinny Cerrato was director of player personnel for the Redskins and 49ers.
"I knew in training camp that we were going to be a good
football team. It just didn't happen right away," said Brown, who
started the day tied for third in the NFL with 78 catches.
He added seven Sunday and returned a punt 85 yards for a
touchdown. Smith scored on runs of 1 and 5 yards, Adam Vinatieri
kicked two field goals and the defense held the Browns offense
without a touchdown.
"We're playing the defense now that we played two years ago
when we were getting it done," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said.
The Patriots (8-5) have allowed more than 17 points once in six
games and that was when St. Louis beat them 24-17. Their three
remaining opponents include two of the league's worst teams,
Buffalo and Carolina. They also face Miami.
"A lot of people expected us to fail," center Damien Woody
said, "but we knew what we could do."
The Browns (6-6) also have done better than expected after going
5-27 the past two seasons. But on Sunday they dropped their second
straight game as Tim Couch threw three interceptions.
"They mixed up the fronts a lot," Couch said. "We felt like
we were in the game right up until the end, but they did a good job
every time we got close."
The Browns made it 20-16 on Phil Dawson's third field goal, a
22-yarder with 12:39 left after they couldn't score a touchdown
with a first-and-goal at the 4.
New England put the game out of reach on Smith's second
touchdown, a 5-yard run with 2:43 left. His knee hit the ground at
the 1 before the ball crossed the goal line, but the Browns didn't
challenge the touchdown call.
"This loss hurts, but we gave up big plays on special teams,"
said Jamir Miller, who had two sacks for Cleveland. "We played
better in the second half because we knew we had 30 minutes. Our
season was on the line."
The Browns still have a playoff shot, but must play better.
"You can't self-destruct," coach Butch Davis said. "We gave
up turnovers, the big return, big plays., It's been a common thread
in our defeats this year."
A week earlier, in a 31-15 loss to Tennessee, the Browns allowed
touchdown passes of 72 and 43 yards.
Brady didn't match that. He even threw an interception that
Corey Fuller returned 49 yards for a touchdown. And Brady failed to
join Joe Montana as the only passers with more than four straight
games of completing at least 70 percent of their passes.
Brady was 19-of-28, 67.8 percent, for 218 yards and two
interceptions. Montana reached 70 percent in eight straight games,
while Sammy Baugh, Steve Young and Troy Aikman also have four in a
Brady also had rare help from Terry Glenn. The troubled wide
receiver had four catches for 67 yards in his second game of the
season. He had been in a dispute with the team over the severity of
a hamstring injury, but he talked with coach Bill Belichick last
week and decided to play.
"Terry obviously brings a lot to the game," Brady said. "He
runs those comebacks on the guys and they're thinking he's going
deep and they turn their back on him. He's just such a threat."
Fuller's touchdown gave the Browns a 10-3 lead after one
Then Smith tied the game with a 1-yard run to start a 17-point
second quarter that gave the Patriots a 20-10 halftime lead. Brown
had his 85-yard punt return in the quarter and Vinatieri kicked a
38-yard field goal.
"That was another good team win," New England coach Bill
Belichick said. "We got some big plays from a lot of different
Brown has a career-high 85 catches. ... Cleveland's Kevin
Johnson had eight catches for 95 yards, giving him 663 yards
receiving in his last eight games. ... The teams combined for just
131 yards rushing: 81 for the Patriots and 50 for the Browns. ...
Cleveland tight end Aaron Shea didn't return after hurting his left
shoulder in the first quarter.
There was no ruling in the Deflategate case Tuesday. Late in the afternoon, the federal judge hearing the case said he "anticipates" issuing his decision by the end of the week.
In thanking fans for their support over his nine-year career, ex-Bills running back Fred Jackson also took a parting shot at general manager Doug Whaley in an interview with The Buffalo News.
According to Russell Wilson, it wasn't until an April trip to Hawaii that Seahawks players finally put last season's Super Bowl loss behind them.
Texans owner Bob McNair said J.J. Watt would not have destroyed his cellphone if faced with the same situation as the Patriots' Tom Brady in his dispute with the NFL over deflated footballs.
Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas will have surgery on Wednesday to repair ligament damage in his right hand.
Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel says he's had to manage elbow soreness since his freshman year in college, and that he does not need surgery.