Rob Gronkowski Patriots Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is carted off the field Sunday. Credit: Getty Images

 

The Patriots went into Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium with a 22-2 record at home in December. They made it 23-2, just barely.

 

The Pats beat the Browns, 27-26, in a game that looked like a definite Pats loss late in the fourth quarter. But New England rallied after being down 26-14 with less than three minutes to play, marching 82 yards for a touchdown (a Julian Edelman 2-yard catch), recovering an onside kick, and then scoring another touchdown (Danny Amendola 1-yard catch) in the final minute, after a 29-yard pass interference call in the end zone. Billy Cundiff’s 58-yard field goal attempt as time expired fell well short, and the Patriots escaped with another comeback win.

 

They didn’t come out unscathed, though. The Pats may have won the game, but they lost one of their best players, Rob Gronkowski, to an ugly knee injury. He is scheduled to have an MRI Monday but an ACL tear is feared.

 

Here are three things we saw Sunday:

This one hurts (a lot)
The Patriots’ season and Super Bowl hopes took a gruesome turn for the worse on their second drive of the third quarter. Tom Brady dropped back and fired a ball to Gronkowski for 34 yards. But Gronk took a helmet directly to the right knee while being tackled. You could hear him scream in agony on the ground, and he did not move his leg. He was eventually helped up and carted off the field and just like that, the Patriots offense that was just starting to click over the last few weeks lost its best weapon. Not only is Gronkowski the team’s biggest red zone target, he’s also a superb blocker. Undoubtedly, Brady and the Pats will miss him on the field for many reasons.

Another slow start
We wrote heading into the game: “If the Patriots need a crazy second-half rally this weekend against the Cleveland Browns, then we can start to worry about their slow starts.” Consider us worried. The Patriots were blanked in the first half by the Browns, looking all out of sorts on offense. Uncharacteristic drops by Pats receivers had Brady at just 7-for-19 for 95 yards. The comebacks are obviously fun to watch, but those won’t come in the postseason.
Shane Vereen eventually helped fill the production void with 12 receptions for a career-high 153 yards. He also rushed for a touchdown.

Nearly a Brown-out
Jason Campbell threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns. Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron combined for 16 receptions, 272 yards, and two touchdowns. In short, they had their way with the Pats defense. Gordon showed his lightning speed on an 80-yard TD catch late in the third quarter. Gordon’s 151 reception yards gave him 774 yards over last four games – a new NFL record over that span. The Patriots secondary needs to tighten up going forward.