Monday, December 13, 2010

Thank you Cleveland: Why the Browns saved the Patriots

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 12: Julian Edelman  of the New England Patriots returns a kick against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 12, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Patriots beat the Bears 36-7. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

It was one of the worst games of the Belichick era. November 7th. In Cleveland. Peyton Hillis ran for 184 yards and and two touchdowns. Colt McCoy looked like Otto Graham. Rob Gronkowski played an awful game, misplaying a kickoff, fumbling inside the Browns 10 yard line in the first half when it looked like the Patriots were rolling, dropping passes, it was awful. The final score was 34-14, and every fear about the Patriots, a weak defense, young talent showing their inexperience, came to light. They were on their way to Pittsburgh, and many felt the season was about to go off the rails.

It didn't.

Before the Cleveland game, the Patriots were number one in the ESPN weekly power rankings, in Peter King's weekly power rankings, and the phrase "The Patriots are the best team in the NFL" was uttered from many a lip of the NFL talking heads. It seemed like maybe that week the young players the Pats had leaned on all year believed their own hype. They had a horrible week of practice, even practicing 45 minutes more than normal on Friday because of their awful performance on the practice field. The bad week showed on Sunday. It was a worry that spilled over to this week, as the Patriots were coming off of a Monday Night shellacking of the Jets and headed to face a team in Chicago that felt slighted and overlooked. With bad weather and a short week, the recipe for disaster was there, but the cake came out of the oven looking good.

Really good.

Every good team bottoms out at some point. The 1993 Cowboys started off 0-2, got Emmitt Smith back and cruised to their second straight Super Bowl. The 1994 San Francisco 49ers lost to Philadelphia 40-8 in October, and then went on to win 13 of their next 14 (including playoffs) and they won the Super Bowl. The 2004 Patriots coughed up a game on a Monday night to an awful Miami team and didn't lose again. Last season, the Saints lost their last 3 regular season games. They also won the Super Bowl.

Experience is the best teacher, and no matter how many times Bill Belichick and his coaching staff told their young team to not overlook the Browns, the Browns waxed them. When there was a chance it could happen again this past weekend, it wasn't even close. Once again, the national media, even Tony Dungy, is praising the Patriots for being the best team in the league. Just remember the lesson that Cleveland taught you:

Don't believe your own hype.



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