Shane Vereen, Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower Among Five Stars of Patriots-Browns Game

Shane Vereen, D'Qwell JacksonFOXBORO, Mass. — By the time the Patriots’ offense had got their act together, it seemed like it was too late. They lost their biggest target, after all.

Rob Gronkowski got his knee taken out by T.J. Ward in the third quarter and had to be carted off the field. It sucked the energy out of the stadium but not New England’s offense.

Tom Brady led the Patriots on four scoring drives. Then the magic took over. The Patriots recovered the onside kick after it clanged off a Browns player, New England got a cheap call on a pass interference penalty and Brady hit Danny Amendola for six.

Brady gets a special star for being able to lead this team on such a miraculous comeback. It seemed like it was impossible for the Patriots to win this game. And they did.

After all that, check out this weeks’ five stars of the game below.

Shane Vereen: Once Gronkowski went down, it was suddenly on Vereen to carry the offense. And carry the offense he did.

Vereen ended the game with 12 receptions for 153 yards and three carries for 9 yards and a touchdown. Vereen’s biggest drive came at the end of the third quarter when he had catches of 50 and 16 yards and a 6-yard rushing touchdown.

Rob Ninkovich: As usual, Ninkovich brought pressure from the left side all game while sealing the edge against the run.

Ninkovich finished with one sack, two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and seven tackles. The Patriots went back to a 4-3 regular defense, so Ninkovich wasn’t forced to drop into coverage as often as when he plays outside linebacker. It was a welcome switch for Ninkovich.

Sealver Siliga: The Patriots’ run defense had been a sieve in recent weeks. Bill Belichick inserted the second-year nose tackle into the middle of the defense and New England did a much better job of stopping the run.

Of course, Cleveland has some of the worst running backs in the league. Still, Jason Campbell and Gordon accounted for over half the Browns’ yards on the ground.

Dont’a HightowerThe second-year linebacker has been criticized as of late, but Hightower had a great game against Cleveland. He made some nice plays in coverage and against the run.

A return to the 4-3 appeared welcome for Hightower, as well. Hightower had struggled when forced to play inside linebacker in the 3-4.

Josh Boyce: We’ll give the fifth star to the rookie receiver, who caught three passes for 49 yards and showed some nice ability after the catch. His biggest play was when he drew a pass interference penalty with under a minute left in the fourth quarter.

Boyce was forced to fill in for Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins and had by far the best game of his short career. Brady definitely missed his other two rookie receivers, but Boyce added another element to the offense.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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