1:00 PM ET, December 8, 2013
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
The New England Patriots are hoping to get their prolific offense going much sooner in games as they pursue the AFC's top seed.
The Patriots may have a good chance to do that Sunday against a team giving up plenty of first-half points, and they could clinch a fifth straight AFC East title as they host record-breaking Josh Gordon and the Cleveland Browns.
New England (9-3) has a three-game lead on Miami in the East and will wrap up the division with a victory Sunday along with a loss or tie by the Dolphins in Pittsburgh. The Patriots trail Denver by one game for the best record in the conference but own the tiebreaker thanks to their 34-31 overtime win over the Broncos on Nov. 24.
After falling behind 24-0 at the half in that contest, New England trailed by double digits after the first 30 minutes last Sunday in Houston before rallying to beat the NFL-worst Texans 34-31.
The Patriots, outscored 34-7 in the first quarter of their past three games, have been losing at halftime in four of the last five. They've outscored opponents 133-56 after intermission over that span, and scored on each of their first five possessions of the second half in their last two.
"Coach will come in at halftime and say 'OK, these are the things we're going to have to do well to move the ball,'" said Tom Brady, who has completed 73.0 percent of his passes for an average of 233 yards in the second half of his last three games.
Brady put up big numbers in the last two comeback victories, throwing for 715 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. While Brady has thrown for seven scores and five INTs in six road games, he has 12 TDs and three picks at home as the Patriots have gone 6-0.
"We've got to start playing better football in the first half, and come out with a better start, and move the ball better," said Gronkowski, who had six catches for 127 yards last week.
The Patriots will try to make that happen against a Cleveland team that has fallen behind by a 64-30 margin in the first half and allowed a total of 100 points during its three-game losing streak. The last six opponents have averaged 18.5 first-half points.
Trailing 20-14 at halftime against visiting Jacksonville last Sunday, the Browns took a 28-25 lead with 3:55 remaining on Gordon's 95-yard touchdown grab from Brandon Weeden. However, Cecil Shorts beat standout cornerback Joe Haden for a 20-yard TD catch with 40 seconds left to give the Jaguars a 32-28 victory.
Gordon had two touchdowns among his 10 catches for a team-record 261 yards, bettering his own mark of 237 from the previous week against Pittsburgh. Besides becoming the first player with consecutive 200-yard games, Gordon's 498 yards in two games and 623 in three are both league records.
"You're seeing the product of his hard work and his commitment to what he's been doing," coach Rob Chudzinski said. "It's no surprise to me."
Gordon could have a tough time continuing his hot streak given New England's 10th-ranked pass defense (224.0 yards per game) as well as limited practice time this week with Cleveland's starting quarterback.
Jason Campbell wasn't named the starter until Friday, a day after he was finally cleared to practice following a concussion. Brandon Weeden started in his place last Sunday, throwing for a career-high 370 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, but was diagnosed with a concussion following the loss.
Campbell had started the previous four games, throwing for six TDs and three INTs, and led the Browns (4-8) to their only win in the past two months -- against Baltimore on Nov. 3.
With Weeden likely out, if Campbell is knocked out of this game, Cleveland would either turn to a quarterback who has never thrown a regular-season NFL pass or one who hasn't attempted one since 2011.
Alex Tanney, who has no regular-season experience, was signed off Dallas' practice squad last week and Caleb Hanie was added Tuesday. Hanie, released by Baltimore in August, spent four years backing up Jay Cutler in Chicago and was third on Denver's depth chart last season.
The Browns have lost five straight in Foxborough dating to Oct. 25, 1992, but they upset the Patriots 34-14 in 2010 in the teams' last meeting as Brady was held to 19 of 36 for 224 yards.
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|Avg Points Allowed||24.9||22.1|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||CLE|
|Rush Yds Allowed||CLE|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|New England leads 5-1|
|Nov 7, 2010||CLE 34, NE 14|
|Oct 7, 2007||CLE 17, @NE 34|
|Dec 5, 2004||CLE 15, NE 42|
|Oct 26, 2003||CLE 3, @NE 9|
|Dec 9, 2001||CLE 16, @NE 27|
Tom Brady is 42-6 in his career in December and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, he has the best win percentage in December for any quarterback since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger (minimum 10 games).[+]
The Patriots go back to "life without Gronk" which was not a pretty sight the first time around as the Patriots offense ranked among the league's worst the first six weeks of the season when they last played without the tight end.[+]
Life Without Gronk - Patriots In Weeks 1-6 This Season
Based on expected points added -- which takes into account everything an offense does to move the ball and score points the Patriots offense contributed -1.9 expected points per game to the team's net scoring margin in 6 games without Rob Gronkowski (19th in the NFL). In 7 games since Gronkowski's return, the Patriots offensive EPA is +8.7 per game, 4th in the NFL.[+]
Patriots' Offense This Season
FROM ELIAS: The Patriots have won 3 straight games in which they trailed by double digits in the 2nd half. The last team to do that in one season was the 1993 Eagles (weeks 2-5), who had Randall Cunningham at QB.[+]
Patriots Last 3 Games in 2nd Half/OT
Jason Campbell torched the Patriots defense, especially when New England sent at least five rushers. Campbell was 9-of-11 for 205 yards and three touchdowns against the blitz, including 4-of-5 for 122 yards and an 80-yard touchdown targeting Josh Gordon.[+]
Patriots Pass Defense With 5+ Rushers, 2013
After Jason Campbell's touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron gave the Browns a 26-14 lead with 2:39 left, the Patriots win probability dropped to 2.0%. After Brady's touchdown pass to Julian Edelman it was only 2.5%.[+]
Patriots' Win Probability vs Browns
Since 2011, 63 percent of Rob Gronkowski's receptions have come in the Red Zone. When inside the Red Zone, Gronk has been more sure-handed than when outside. Plus his 24 red zone touchdowns are tied with Jimmy Graham for most in the NFL during that span.[+]
Red Zone Reliability - Rob Gronkowski Since 2011
Shane Vereen caught 12 passes for 153 yards Sunday, becoming just the fourth running back in the last 10 seasons to post 150 yards receiving in a single game.[+]
Tom Brady had a rough first half against the Browns, being held to 5-of-11 passing for 60 yards and an interception when facing standard pressure. In the second half, Brady was far more efficient and effective, connecting for a pair of touchdowns including the game winner to Danny Amendola with less than a minute remaining.[+]
Tom Brady vs 4 or Fewer Rushers, Sunday
Brady targeted Shane Vereen three times against standard pressure in the first half, completing 2-of-3 passes for 12 yards and one drop. Brady targeted Vereen 14 times against four or fewer rushers in the second half, completing 10-of-14 passes for 141 yards. Vereen had five second-half catches that surpassed his first-half receiving total.
New England's 8 1st-quarter plays is their fewest in a 1st quarter since Week 17 of 2011 (vs Bills).
Tom Brady has been significantly more effective with Rob Gronkowski on the field. Since Gronk entered the league in 2010, Brady has a 77.7 Total QBR with Gronkowski on the field and a 59.8 QBR with Gronkowski off the field.[+]
FROM ELIAS: The Patriots have won 3 straight games in which they trailed by double digits in the 2nd half. The last team to do that in the same season was the 1993 Eagles (weeks 2-5), Randall Cunningham was their QB.
ESPN Stats & Information