New England’s final practice of the week ran 30-45 minutes longer than scheduled, which typically means the team had a poor day on the field. And then in the locker room, quarterback Tom Brady got ready slowly, showing the signs of someone who was bothered by something.
Was this a suggestion that Brady wasn’t completely enthused with the Pats’ preparation for the Browns? Well, after the Patriots’ 34-14 clobbering in Cleveland on Sunday, Brady said the team had to get back to practicing better. And defensive lineman Vince Wilfork told reporters the same thing — the Patriots practiced poorly last week.
These things happen every week to teams across the league, but the Patriots had been averse to such football felonies during the first two months of the 2010 regular season. They built the NFL’s best record through eight weeks — and even after the 20-point loss to the Browns, at 6-2, the Patriots are still tied atop the league standings — and they were hyped as a Super Bowl favorite.
Young teams, like the Patriots, can be plagued by inconsistencies on the field, and they can also subject themselves to those types of mental errors during the week’s other six days. After all, when enough people tell them how great they are, it’s only normal to buy into it.
Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo, a team captain, told reporters Sunday the loss will serve as “an awakening,” and if the team can learn from this experience, it will be beneficial in the long run. That’s the exact mindset the Patriots will need as they get on the plane back to New England and embark upon an old-school, time-to-earn-it week of practice.
“We didn’t do any of the things we needed to do to win, or really be competitive, so that was the result of the game,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said at his postgame news conference. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do. I think we’re a better team than we showed [Sunday].”
The Patriots’ mistakes were glaring. Rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski waived at their first kickoff return and later fumbled the ball at the Cleveland 2-yard line, a pair of miscues that cost the Patriots 10-14 points. Brady made poor throws, and his receivers once again had too many drops. They were just 3 of 11 on third down, while allowing the Browns to convert on 7-of-13 third-down attempts. And the Patriots had the ball for just 21 minutes, 52 seconds, being out-possessed by more than 16 minutes.
Browns running back Peyton Hillis rushed for a career-high 184 yards and two touchdowns, and he had 220 yards from scrimmage. Don’t forget the 60 rushing yards on six carries, including the 35-yard knockout blow, on a fourth-quarter drive when everyone in Ohio knew he would get the ball on each play. And rookie quarterback Colt McCoy only threw five incompletions on 19 attempts.
It was a disaster on so many levels.
“We didn’t do a good job on anything [Sunday],” Belichick said. “Pick any subject you want, and say, ‘How did it go?’ and it wasn’t very good.”
Next, the Patriots have to figure out where they’ll let this loss take them. With games against the Steelers and Colts coming up, the Patriots are staring at a vicious two-game stretch.
If they can return to form and display the mental toughness they showcased during that impressive five-game winning streak, the Browns loss could symbolize a strange aberration, although it could be a blip that still hurts the Patriots’ tiebreaking scenarios in terms of playoff seeding.
At the very least, the Patriots have been grounded by this 20-point loss. Consider it a lesson learned, one in mental preparation. Sundays aren’t just about 60 minutes — they’re about the whole week.
“As a group, we need to understand what we need to do better, individually, and then go out there and get to work, get back to practicing better,” Brady said. “If we play the way we played [Sunday], we’re not going to beat anybody. We just had an awful day.”