FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots finally were focused — a day late.
They watched film of their worst loss of the season, listened to their coach’s criticism and left Monday’s team meeting determined to avoid a repeat.
“Everybody looked at each other in the room before we walked out,” wide receiver Deion Branch said. “You could see it in the guys’ eyes. Nobody said anything. Everybody was real ticked off at their play.”
The Patriots were thoroughly outplayed in their 34-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday — from a 10-0 deficit after the first four minutes to a 35-yard touchdown run by Peyton Hillis with less than three minutes remaining.
The warning signs were there early.
Some of last week’s practices were poor. Players lacked focus, Branch said. That was obvious on Sunday.
“Whatever you do in practice will show up in the game,” he said. “You can always stay positive, but you’ve got to also know at the same time that if we come out and play bad in the game, we already know the reasons.”
Practices provide a chance to get familiar with the next opponent and correct mistakes.
“They’re never perfect,” coach Bill Belichick said. “They can always be better.”
The Patriots hardly looked like the team that began the day with the best record in the NFL, the only club at 6-1. They had three turnovers, allowed 404 yards and dropped passes. Even Tom Brady was off target on throws to open receivers.
“Coach Belichick knew he didn’t need to come in and do a lot of fussing and cursing,” Branch said. “Guys know that we played bad. Everybody knows that.”
The defense continued to be the Patriots biggest problem as they dropped into a first-place in the AFC East with the New York Jets at 6-2.
Colt McCoy completed his last four third-down passes for first downs. Hillis rushed for a career-high 184 yards and Chansi Stuckey scored on an 11-yard run on a trick play.
“We definitely could have been more aware yesterday of what was going on,” Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington said. “Definitely, it’s an eye opener.”
Now they must deal with another problem — the probable loss of placekicker Stephen Gostkowski, at least for next Sunday’s game at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Gostkowski felt tightness in his right thigh in pregame warmups and didn’t return after kicking off following a New England touchdown with 6:17 gone in the second quarter. The two kicks the Patriots had after that were taken by Wes Welker, an extra point and a kickoff.
“We’re still waiting for more information. So that’s a possibility” that the team will sign another kicker, Belichick said.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, they didn’t need Gostkowski much. They only scored two touchdowns.
The Patriots probably would have changed some offensive decisions without Gostkowski, perhaps trying a two-point conversion.
“But it never really came to that,” Belichick said. “The situations pretty much took care of themselves based on the score.”
The Patriots trailed 17-7 after rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski lost a fumble at the Browns 2-yard line on the next to last play of the first half. It was 24-7 after McCoy’s 16-yard touchdown run six minutes into the third quarter and 34-14 after Hillis’ second touchdown of the game.
Better practices might have led to better execution by the Patriots. Or not.
“The bottom line comes to what we do on Sundays,” tight end Alge Crumpler said. “You can talk about a week of practice. I’ve had awesome weeks of practice and lost a ballgame. I’ve had bad weeks and won a ballgame. You could chalk it up any way you want to, but the bottom line is we’ve got to go out there for those 60 minutes and make it happen.”
They’ll have to practice and play much better to accomplish that.
“The biggest thing is just stay in focus, going out and doing what the coaches ask us to do instead of just doing what we want to do, just running around making up plays, making up routes,” Branch said. “If we execute our base offense and do what were supposed to do I think we’ll be OK.”