Donaldson: Mangini gets best of Belichick

Nov 8 2010 - 5:14pm

CLEVELAND -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Cleveland Browns counterpart Eric Mangini buried the hatchet Sunday.

Look closely and you can see the handle protruding, smack in the center of Belichick's coachly cranium.

Who's the genius now?

Mangini is looking very smart, while Belichick's Patriots are smarting after being outplayed and outcoached to the embarrassing tune of 34-14.

"They did everything better than we did," Belichick acknowledged afterward. "Every single thing you could measure.

"Pick any subject. Ask 'How'd it go?' It wasn't very good. We didn't have anything, in any phase of the game. It was a total victory by Cleveland."

And a near-total humiliation of the Patriots, who came in with the league's best record, but looked like one of the league's worst teams in losing to a Cleveland club that was 2-5 and had a rookie at quarterback who was making only his third career start.

There are some who might say the game would have been different had tight end Rob Gronkowski not fumbled at the Browns' 2 just before halftime with the Pats trailing by 10.

But no one was saying that in the tomb-like New England locker room.

"It's never one play that messes up a game," said tight end Aaron Hernandez, twho scored both of the Patriots' touchdowns on short passes from Tom Brady. "It's a continuance of errors. We just kept making mistakes."

Did they ever. One, after another, after another.

The list of New England errors, both of commission and omission, would stretch across Lake Erie.

The phrase "mistake-prone" has not been used to describe the Patriots this season, but it certainly applied Sunday.

"We were out of synch all day," Brady said. "We just didn't have a very good day. We just didn't play very well."

The last time the Patriots played this poorly was in the opening round of the playoffs in January, when the Ravens ran roughshod over them in Foxboro, 33-14.

Similarly, it was Cleveland's ground game that left the Pats looking like ground chuck on Sunday.

The way they ran the ball, it seemed as if Mangini had done his apprenticeship under Woody Hayes, not Belichick, as the Browns pounded the Pats into submission.

With 240-pound Peyton Hillis looking like the second coming of Jim Brown, rushing for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, all career-highs, the Browns were able to control the ball for a whopping 38:08.

Hillis racked up 60 yards on six straight carries late in the fourth quarter during a drive that says a lot about the way the Patriots played.

There was little doubt that the Browns, leading 27-14 with 6:37 remaining after Brady's second TD pass, were going to run the ball in an attempt to keep the clock running.

And, on the first play, the Pats dropped Hillis for a five-yard loss. But he got those yards back, plus 10 more, on his next carry. Three more carries accounted for another 15 yards, putting the ball at the New England 35, where Hillis proceeded to power off right tackle, cut to the outside all the way to a touchdown.

When a back can do that, in that situation, when everybody knows he's going to run the ball, it tells you something -- that the defense has packed it in. That they've quit. That they've given up.

It tells you that they've not only been beaten, they've also been beaten up, both physically and mentally. That's the saddest thing about the Pats' truly sad performance.

And it wasn't as if the Browns simply overpowered the Pats. They outsmarted them, too.

Exhibit "A" was a gimmick play Cleveland used to take a 17-7 lead late in the second quarter.

On first down from the New England 11, the Brownies put wide receiver Joshua Cribbs behind the center. He took the snap and started to his right, only to hand the ball off to another wide receiver, Chansi Stuckey, on a reverse.

Stuckey darted around left end, toward the end zone, just managing to get the ball over the pylon for the score.

"It was a new play," Belichick said. "They hadn't run it this year. We had prepared for plays like that, but we obviously didn't prepare very well. It was a good play by them, not a good play by us."

There were a lot of plays like that.

It was ugly, and it doesn't promise to be a whole lot prettier for the Patriots next Sunday night in Pittsburgh, against the Steelers.

"If we play the way we played today," Brady said, "we're not going to beat anybody."

As for the resurgent Browns, who upset the Saints two weeks ago in New Orleans, and the coach who was dubbed "Man-genius" in New York, when he was with the Jets, Mangini said: "That's how I envision Browns football."

"I'm really proud of the way the guys played. It feels great. It's special to me because of our guys - not because of their team, because of our team."

And, let's not kid anybody, also because it was against Belichick.

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