BOSTON (CBS) — This weekend, the Patriots embark on what looks to be a lackluster four-week finish to the 2013 season. First up is the Cleveland Browns, who are 4-8 and sit in last place in the AFC North.
Yet the Patriots have proven that no opponent, no matter the win-loss record, can be overlooked. With a loss to the Jets and near-losses to the Bills and Texans, the Patriots have had their fair share of issues when facing lesser teams. So here’s what to watch for when the Browns and Patriots kick off at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
How About A First Half?
Last week, facing the 2-9 Texans, the Patriots fell behind 17-7 before halftime. The week prior, the Patriots fell behind Denver 24-0 in the first half, thanks in large part to fumbles on their first three possessions.
They won both of those games thanks to a pair of spectacular comebacks, but this week, perhaps they can try to make it a little bit easier on themselves.
They’ve actually trailed at halftime for three straight weeks (it was 10-3 in Carolina), as they’ve seemingly swapped out their early-season third-quarter woes with first-half troubles lately. While their 2-1 record the last three weeks says they’ve managed to survive OK despite the slow starts, it’s now the time of year when teams need to start rounding into playoff form. And an early deficit to the Browns wouldn’t do much to provide evidence that the Patriots are heading in that direction.
The Most Dangerous Man — Josh Gordon
Here is a complete list of every Cleveland Browns player that presents a great challenge to the Patriots:
(End of list.)
Of course, that’s in jest, but only partially. This is the NFL, and every team has players, but Josh Gordon is certainly the one who will be the center of the New England defense’s attention on Sunday.
Gordon became the first player in NFL history to pick up 200-plus receiving yards in consecutive weeks, and he did it by hauling in 237 yards against Pittsburgh and a ridiculous 261 yards against Jacksonville. He’s now just 50 yards behind Calvin Johnson for the league lead in receiving yards, which is remarkable considering Gordon missed the first two games of the season due to a suspension.
Typically, when an offense has one main threat, Bill Belichick’s defense does a good job of shutting him down and forcing opponents to win via other methods. But this is a special case, and it’ll require all hands on deck to try to slow down the 22-year-old who’s really made a name for himself in recent weeks.
But Then Again …
For as much as the Patriots have to worry about Josh Gordon, there is the minor detail of the Browns’ not having a starting quarterback.
Both Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden are recovering from concussions. Campbell was cleared to practice on Thursday, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting he will get the start on Sunday, but with head injuries, nothing is certain.
Meanwhile, the Browns signed Caleb Hanie, a week after they signed Alex Tanney, who is famous more for his trick shot video than anything he’s done on a field.
And frankly, that’s not even a very impressive trick shot video.
So it’ll have a big effect on the game — perhaps the biggest effect — if Campbell or Weeden can suit up. If not, the Pats’ D may have a field day with Hanie or Tanney.
It may be time to update this jersey:
Hat & T-Shirt Day?
The Patriots don’t celebrate too often after regular-season victories, but there’s one day they love more than most: Hat & T-Shirt Day.
That day comes when they win their division, which they have the chance to do on Sunday. If they handle the Browns, and if the 6-6 Dolphins lose in Pittsburgh, it’ll be time to bust out the cardboard boxes full of division champs gear. It’s not a Super Bowl, but it’s the first step in getting there.