Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Browns keep Patriots focused

A blowout loss back on November 7th could have very well been the catalyst for New England's recent domination...

When the Patriots lost to the Browns earlier this year, they were atop their high horse.

They entered that game being the sole owners of the best record in the NFL. An honor no team has held since Cleveland took it away from the Pats that November afternoon.

When that game was played, the young Patriots were the winners of five straight. It hadn’t come easy either. They had gone through some stiff competition in the Ravens, Chargers and their former teammate Randy Moss’s Vikings. A game against the sub .500 Cleveland Browns seemed like a walk in the park for the Patriots, especially with a Sunday night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers looming the next week.

It turned out to be New England’s worst game. The Patriots were trounced by Cleveland. However, as I wrote at the time, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to them.

“You go back to the Cleveland game — that game was really a wake-up call for us”, said Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain this week. “I think since then, we’ve been trying to take advantage of every game, the situation, the conditions, knowing what we’re up against, so we’re not caught by surprise. Cleveland was a game we got caught by surprise. So I think we’ve really matured from that sense”.

Since that shocking defeat, the Patriots have mustered up another five game win streak. This time, the team hopes to extend it to six. It seems like they’re in a great position to do just that.

The Patriots have been rolling ever since that Cleveland game. They’ve blown out their last two opponents, 81-10, despite the fact that both boasted top 10 defenses. The Patriots hold the AFC’s best record at 11-2, and with a win on Sunday they could potentially clinch their division and a first round bye.

Despite that, the Pats aren't buying the hype. Instead, they’re taking Belichick’s patented one game at a time approach.

“I know everyone wants to get carried away with an 11-2 record, but I don't think any of us are really carried away”, said quarterback Tom Brady in his weekly press conference on Wednesday. “Yeah, we're in a good position, but we can be in a bad position really quickly in a span of two or three weeks. So I think we've always focused on the challenge this week, and I think that's served us pretty well. Green Bay is a hell of a challenge for us”.

Provided Green Bay’s quarterback, Aaron Rodgers (who was knocked out of last week’s game with a concussion) is active for Sunday’s game, it would be a big test for New England.

The Packers are desperately fighting to stay alive in their division and consequently the playoffs. A desperate team can be dangerous this time of year, especially when matched up against a team with much less to lose like the Patriots.

bears patriotsGreen Bay’s got a defense that allows a league low 14.5 points a game and consistently forces offenses to give them the ball. The Packers have 18 total interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and the fifth most sacks in the league (37).

While those stats are daunting, statistics haven’t stopped New England so far this season. The Patriots have seen seven of the NFL’s top 10 defenses and average a whopping 31 points against them.

Tom Brady hasn’t thrown an interception since mid-October and in the last five games the Pats’ defense has held opponents to 17.6 points/g and forced 13 turnovers.

However, as the Patriots learned against the Browns, their past success means nothing.

“The stuff we've done in the past, that's great but that doesn't mean they're going to happen again”, said coach Bill Belichick. “We have to keep working to make sure those are done at a high level”.

"I think the worst thing that can happen is for any of us to look ahead”, said tight end, Alge Crumpler, following the victory over the Bears. “We've been very focused on the task at hand."

It’s something the Patriots have applied well in their five game winning streak. Many were worried about the team playing against the Lions - thinking they’d be looking ahead to the big game against the Jets the week after. In that game the Pats pulled out a 45-24 beat down.

Even last week, many had the Bears picked to beat the Patriots.

On Colin Cowherd’s radio show, ESPN NFL Analyst and former coach, Herm Edwards, explained why the Patriots could lose focus after dismantling the Jets and fall to the Bears.

“It's too hard emotionally”, said Edwards.  “[The Bears game] is one of the games where emotionally, [the Patriots] might not be into this one. Here’s the problem, they just came off a big win beating a division opponent…Now you go on the road playing a Chicago Bear team and when you turn the tape on [they don't look hard to beat]…It's like the team's going to play in Cleveland”.

The Patriots proved that their focus is as strong as ever, beating Chicago on the road, 36-7, in a blizzard. Their recent run of success is an attribute to that and they owe it all the the Cleveland Browns.

"You just look back at a game like that and that keeps you motivated, where you can never let up and stay practicing hard and lifting hard, studying film," said left guard Logan Mankins. "I think that has helped everyone stay focused on the job at hand."

Cleveland’s slice of humble pie could've pushed the Pats towards making a deep run in the playoffs. Yet, the Patriots players won't tell you that's on their minds. One game at a time. All they can think about right now is accomplishing what they couldn't against the Browns - getting that sixth win in a row.

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