Game notes at Cleveland
The Patriots top three corners were once again out of action and among the team's inactives at Cleveland. Cornerback Ty Law, Tyrone Poole,and Asante Samuel were out along with new offensive lineman Marques Sullivan,linebacker Roman Phifer(calf) and defensive linemen Marquise Hill and Ethan Kelly. Jim Millerwas the emergency quarterback.
Kickoff returner Bethel Johnson returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown for his first touchdown return of the season. He returned one kickoff 92 yards for a score last year as a rookie at Indianapolis. Fellow return man PatrickPass made the final block that sprung Johnson into the open field. It marked an NFL record 17th straight regular season game in which the Patriots have scored first. It also was the first time the Browns allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown in 250 games.
Quarterback Tom Brady entered the game having been sacked just 19 times in 11 games, but went down twice on the Patriots first possession of the game, both at the hands of Browns defensive end Kenard Lang.
Running back Corey Dillon lost his third fumble of the season and second in three weeks when he dropped a ball at his own 32 on New England's second possession. The defense picked him up, however, when Rodney Harrsion picked off Luke McCown at the Patriots 4 on the ensuing possession.
Dillon then scored on a 4-yard touchdown run to complete a 96-yard scoring drive that gave the Patriots a 14-0 lead. It was Dillon's eighth rushing touchdown of the season and completed the longest scoring drive by the Patriots since Nov. 25, 2001 when they drove 93 yards for a touchdown against the Saints. Dillon scored on a 1-yard touchdown on New England's next possession to give the Patriots a 21-0 lead. It was his fifth rushing touchdown in the last three games and gave him nine for the season.
Harrison nearly had a second interception, but he dropped the tipped ball as he fell to the turf when it looked as though he was trying to hold the ball up with one hand to celebrate his takeaway. It was originally ruled an interception, but was overturned on replay.
Troy Brown made a terrific play on a Browns punt following Harrison's near interception. The punt landed short of Brown and near Patriots vice guy Randall Gay. Anticipating the ball bouncing and making contact with an unaware Gay, Brown raced up and was able to recover the punt after it did indeed bounce off Gay's backside and became a live ball.
On the injury front, guard Joe Andruzzi limped to the locker room following Dillon's second touchdown run with a leg injury and was replaced at guard by Russ Hochstein. Andruzzi's return was announced as questionable. Dillon also left the game 5:00 to go in the half after a 5-yard run and was standing on the sideline next to the trainer rubbing the back of his leg and flexing his leg. A replay showed a hard hit to his thigh area, but nothing definitive. Later on the same possession, Pass was stopped well short on a fourth-and-three play from the Bengals 30-yard line. The Patriots were driving into the wind and after sending Adam Vinatieri onto the field, Bill Belichick called him back and decided to go for it just before the 2:00 warning.
The Patriots allowed McCown's first career touchdown pass with :50 left in the half from 16 yards out when he threw down the middle to Frisman Jackson. The pass deflected off Jackson to Antonio Bryant between three Patriots defenders to get the Browns on the board and cut the Patriots lead to 21-7. It completed an 11-play, 70-yard drive that took just 1:17.
Gay scored his first career NFL touchdown when he scooped up a William Green fumble forced by Richard Seymourand raced 41 yards for a touchdown behind a key block from Willie McGinest.Seymour had terrific penetration on the third down play and knocked the ball free from Green, who was fighting to break free for a first down.
Andruzzi returned to action on New England's first possession of the third quarter, but Dillon remained sidelined with Kevin Faulk and rookie Cedric Cobbshandling the bulk of the rushing chores in the second half.
Faulk scored his first touchdown of the season when he trotted in from 10 yards out to give the Patriots a 35-7 lead halfway through the third quarter. To that point, Dillon and former Patriot Rabih Abdullah (1) were the only Patriots with rushing touchdowns this season.
Eugene Wilson recovered a fumble just one offensive play after Faulk's touchdown run when Dexter Reid ripped the ball free from Browns tight end Steve Heiden. The Patriots scored their third touchdown off a Browns turnover just a few plays later when Brady hit David Patten for a 44-yard touchdown. Brady had gone a season high seven quarters without a touchdown pass.
The Patriots did not have a sack through most of the first three quarters but linebackers Tedy Bruschiand Mike Vrabelhad back-to-back sacks late in the third quarter and then McGinest added a third on the same possession.
Rohan Daveyreplaced Brady just before the end of the third quarter and completed his first pass of the season on a 20-yard strike to Bethel Johnson.
Cobbs lost a fumble on the Browns 5-yard line with 10:38 left in the game and the Brown turned it around and flipped the field on the first play when McCown heaved a 53-yard pass to Dennis Northcutt over Reid and then one play later, he chucked a 40-yard touchdown pass to Bryant over Reid for a two-play 93-yard drive that made it 42-15 after Cleveland successfully threw for the two-point conversion.
Brown intercepted his second pass of the season late in the fourth quarter when he picked off McCown on a pass intended for Northcutt. In five games playing as a regular nickel defensive back, Brown has intercepted two passes and come very close to two more.
Dillon, who came back for one play in the second half, finished with 18 carries for 100 yards while Faulk added 13 carries for 87 yards and Cobbs ran 16 times for 29 yards.
The Patriots are now 11-1, their best 12-game start in team history. They host the 6-6 Bengals next Sunday at 1 p.m. The Bengals won in Baltimore last week on a late rally led by Carson Palmer, who threw for 382 yards with three touchdowns.