CLEVELAND – Quarterback Tom Brady is back for the Patriots.
And rookie defensive end Carl Nassib for the Browns.
With the nation’s attention focused on Brady’s return from a four-game suspension for his role in Deflategate, the Browns are looking for their first victory under coach Hue Jackson this afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Nassib returns after missing two games with a broken left hand. The hand is heavily wrapped.
Safety Ibraheim Campbell is also back after missing two games with a hamstring injury. He’s expected to start.
The other Browns inactives were already known because of long-term injuries: quarterback Josh McCown (broken left collarbone), receiver Corey Coleman (broken hand), centers Cameron Erving (bruised lung) and Austin Reiter (torn anterior cruciate ligament) and tight ends Randall Telfer (high ankle sprain) and Seth DeValve (knee).
The Patriots (3-1) will be without starting right tackle Marcus Cannon, who’s inactive (calf).
Receiver Julian Edelman (foot) is active.
(Three points of interest in today’s game)
TURN TO T.P.
Browns coach Hue Jackson can’t expect rookie quarterback Cody Kessler to go yard-for-yard with New England’s Tom Brady. But what about a tandem of Kessler and do-it-all receiver Terrelle Pryor? The Browns nearly pulled an upset in Miami two weeks ago with Pryor getting 14 snaps behind center and registering a historic day with 200 combined yards catching, running and passing. Jackson didn’t think he needed Pryor as a wildcat quarterback last week against Washington but will likely pull out all the stops to try to keep up with the Patriots’ explosive offense.
“Oh, he is important in every game, because he can play,” Jackson said. “There are a lot of different things that he can do with the football. It is a game-by-game situation for us.”
The Browns have the league’s top-ranked rushing attack and could enhance it by having Pryor run the option with backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. The Patriots have struggled in the past defending the wildcat, so it makes sense to test them. A conservative game plan with a ton of Pryor and a few deep shots from Kessler — something missing in his first two starts — could be the Browns’ best chance to match scores with the Patriots.
“Terrelle is our go-to guy, and we have to keep going to him and getting him the football, and he will make plays for us,” associate head coach-offense Pep Hamilton said. “Not only is he competitive but he is very conscientious. He loves football. He is a true ‘slash’ in the sense that he prepares himself the same way that our quarterbacks prepare themselves for each game. He is ready at any given moment to go out and play any skill position on the entire football field.”
If Pryor needs extra motivation, the Patriots hosted him for an extended tryout last year but decided not to sign him. He will get the chance to show what they’re missing.
Critical mistakes have killed the Browns in the last three losses as they’ve been unable to hold second-half leads. A blocked extra point returned for two points turned the tide for Baltimore, three missed field goals cost them a win in Miami and a string of three turnovers doomed them in Washington. Penalties and defensive breakdowns have also been recurring problems.
Fundamental failures against Bill Belichick, Brady and the Patriots will only lead to more heartbreak. And the Patriots know how to produce pain, as their plus-179 turnover ratio since 1994 is by far the best in the NFL.
Kessler has done well handling the pressure of his first two starts, but he lost a fumble against Miami and threw an interception that led to a touchdown against Washington. He needs to replace the errors with a few clutch throws.
“Just the biggest thing for us offensively is eliminating mistakes,” he said. “We have done a great job the last two games of being competitive and staying in it and giving ourselves a chance toward the end. We just have to eliminate mistakes, whether that is me throwing the ball, running the ball, even just missing a play here and there that could be a turning point in the game.”
A HELPING HAND (OR FOOT)
The Browns don’t measure up to the Patriots from a talent standpoint. Just ask the bookmakers who have Cleveland as a 10½-point underdog at home.
So the Browns will need a special effort to pull the stunner. Special teams is the perfect spot to shift the balance of power, but the Patriots also have the edge there. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has led the league in scoring four straight seasons and has made 87.3 percent of his field goals. Their coverage units are strong — helped by the trade for former Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo — and Danny Amendola is a proven punt returner.
“Probably one of the top units that we will play all year,” special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. “They have a lot of good players, well-coached. Probably one of the faster teams that we’ll face.”
The Browns haven’t been able to get out of their own way in the kicking game this year – another area where the young roster is detrimental. But strong-legged kicker Cody Parkey had a nice bounce-back last week and punter Britton Colquitt has been solid. If Tabor’s units can force a turnover or bust their first big return, the dream of an upset could become reality.
“It is a great opportunity for us, and I’m excited to watch our guys compete against this unit,” Tabor said.
Bill Belichick’s record as Patriots coach from 2000-present.
Belichick’s record as Browns coach from 1991-95.
Second-half scoring deficit for the Browns through four games.
A motivated Tom Brady vs. Cleveland's 27th-ranked scoring defense? I know a mismatch when I see one. Patriots 34, Browns 20.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or [email protected] Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.
Browns Pregame Update: DE Carl Nassib returns with broken hand; 3 points of interest; relevant numbers; the prediction
CLEVELAND – Quarterback Tom Brady is back for the Patriots.
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