The New England Patriots hosted the Cleveland Browns with a chance to put a claim in for the top overall seed in the playoffs against a team that had been flailing in recent weeks, especially on offense. With Jason Campbell coming back from a concussion, the Browns were looking to just not shoot themselves in the foot offensively.
The Browns took the opening kickoff and put together a solid, offensive drive. After two straight 200+ yard receiving games, the Patriots looked to take away Josh Gordon. The Browns responded with three straight runs to open the drive to Willis McGahee. Campbell followed that up with passes to Greg Little, MarQueis Gray and Jordan Cameron before the drive stalled out in Patriots territory. The Browns took a 3-0 lead on a Billy Cundiff 43 yard field goal.
A combination of good defense by the Browns and an offense that just did not seem to click, the Patriots struggled to move the football. The running game was largely ineffective and the Browns seemed to be able to get pressure on Tom Brady throughout much of the game. They were able to get a few sacks including one from Barkevious Mingo but they got a number of hits him, forced bad throws and made it tough for him to get into a rhythm.
Among the struggles for Brady were an interception where D’Qwell Jackson managed to show some impressive range going across the field to undercut a route and make a play on the move going to the ground. As effective as the Browns were on defense, their offense had trouble taking advantage. They were only able to get another field goal before the half, going in with a 6-0 lead.
The start of the second half was not much better for the Patriots and came with an absolute nightmare scenario. On a pass going down the field when the Patriots were trying to get a drive together, Brady completed a pass to Rob Gronkowski in which he was immediately hit with by T.J. Ward. Ward’s hit came with his helmet right into Gronkowski’s right knee as he was trying to plant it into the ground. The result was Gronkowski grasping on that knee on the ground and having to go out on the cart while a silent Foxboro crowd looked on, hoping that he could get up under his own power.
The very next play, Paul Kruger was able to get around the edge and pressure Brady who had an awkward forward fumble as he tried to step up in the pocket. The ball basically fell out of his hand and rolled on the ground, recovered by Browns defensive tackle John Hughes. The Browns were unable to capitalize but it stopped another drive.
The Browns were able to get in the end zone on one of the more bizarre plays of the day. After a pair of passes to Davone Bess and then Cameron, the Browns had a first down on the Patriots 40 yard line. Campbell completed a pass to Gary Barnidge who had just ran into Aqib Talib, who fell down and a flag was thrown, but no one had tackled Barnidge. Barnidge kept going running to the goal line in utter silence, either because they were stunned or they thought this was coming back due to the flag and was not a big deal. The ref called Talib for the penalty, the Browns declined and the Browns got the touchdown. Up 12-0, they went for a two-point converstion trying to get up 14 points and went with a handoff up the middle, which failed.
The drive after the Gronkowski injury, the Patriots got the ball back, they were able to move the ball on a pass to Josh Boyce for 22 yards followed by another to LaGarrette Blount for 32 more yards. The Patriots moved the ball quickly but were ultimately forced to settle for a field goal from Stephen Gostowski from 33 yards to get the Patriots on the board, 12-3.
The Browns got the kickoff, took the touchback and responded in one play. Campbell hit Josh Gordon on a slant route in front of Talib and Gordon took off, sprinting from the left side of the field towards the front right pylon in the end zone, gaining distance from Patriots defenders as he went 80 yards for the score. The Browns went up 19-3.
The Patriots appearing to gain some momentum after getting the goal started moving the ball with relative ease down the field. Brady first found Shane Vereen for 50 yards on a wheel route up the left side and then found him again for another 16 yards. Vereen then took a handoff for 6 yards for the touchdown. The Patriots scored on a two-point conversion when Brady found Julian Edelman in the end zone, getting the Patriots to 19-11.
After a punt from the Browns, Brady and company moved the ball down the field again. The offense was able to get into Browns territory relatively easily, but an incomplete pass followed by an intentional grounding call put the Patriots in 2nd-down-and21. Brady found Matthew Mulligan to get 15 yards back but a sack from Kruger forced the Patriots to go for another field goal; this time from 50. The Patriots were only down 19-14.
The Browns got the ball back and kept trying to feed Gordon. They used a reverse that allowed Gordon to pick up 34 yards which put the Browns on the Patriots half of the field. Campbell was also able to find Gordon on a deep comeback that allowed the Browns to continue their drive just outside of the red zone. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick challenged the catch but it was confirmed. That was followed up by a pass from Campbell to Cameron on the right, putting them on the 6-yard line with 3:09 left in the game.
After the Browns went with a run play that was stuffed and had McGahee leave with an injury, Campbell sold a play action, rolled to the right and found a wide open Jordan Cameron in the end zone to get the touchdown and a 26-14 lead.
With a little over two minutes left, Brady carved up the Browns defense marched down the field. After getting inside the 5, the Patriots ran the football and were stuffed, which caused them to use their last timeout. After the timeout, Brady found Edelman in the back of the end zone for the touchdown, which also had a personal foul on Jordan Poyer for hitting a defenseless receiver. The Patriots were down 26-21 with an onside kick which would take place on the Browns 45 yard line.
On the onside kick, Gostowski tapped the ball forward and the Patriots ran in front of it to let it go 10 yards, which touched a Browns player and was recovered by the Patriots with a minute to go in the fourth quarter.
Brady hit Danny Amendola for a first down to the 30 yard line. Brady then went deep trying to hit Boyce in the end zone, which fell incomplete but Leon McFadden was called for pass interference in the end zone, putting the ball on the one yard line. Brady found Amendola on the right side who got the ball into the end zone to give the Patriots a 27-26 lead. They went for the two-point conversion and failed.
The Browns were able to get the ball and moved the ball down the field on a few passes including one to Cameron at the Patriots 40 yard line with the clock running. The Browns hurried to the line and spiked it with 1 second left, setting the Browns up for a 58 yard field. Cundiff could not get enough distance on it and the Browns came up short in an incredible ending on a day of great endings.
Brady had another epic comeback in a season full of them, throwing for 418 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception while Campbell threw for 391 yards and 3 touchdowns. Gordon had seven catches for 151 yards, a touchdown, and a 34 yard run while Cameron had 9 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. Vereen was the biggest play maker for the Patriots with 12 catches for 153 yards. The win is huge for New England but comes at the cost of Gronkowski with the injury.