Foxboro, MA (SportsNetwork.com) - Another sluggish start. Another nail-biting finish for the New England Patriots.
Tom Brady threw two touchdowns passes 30 seconds apart inside of the two- minute warning and the AFC East-leading Patriots rallied for a 27-26 win over the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium.
New England (10-3) orchestrated its third consecutive comeback win without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was carted off the field in the third quarter after suffering what is believed to be a torn ACL.
Gronkowski caught a pass from Brady up the seam before his right knee absorbed the brunt of a hit by defensive back T.J. Ward. After being tended to by medical personnel, Gronkowski was helped onto a cart. He is scheduled to have an MRI on Monday to confirm the injury.
"It hurts to see any of those guys go down," Brady said. "Certainly with Gronk, and we've sustained some pretty big injuries this year with really important, critical players, so we've got to just keep bouncing back."
Cleveland quarterback Jason Campbell acquitted himself very well in a return from a concussion and seemingly had the Browns in position to win after his third touchdown pass gave them a 26-14 lead with 2:39 remaining in the fourth quarter.
But Brady quickly drove the Patriots 82 yards and capped the 11-play sequence with a 2-yard TD pass to Julian Edelman in the back of the end zone with 1:01 to play. Edelman maintained possession despite a big hit by defensive back Jordan Poyer, who was flagged for making contact with a defenseless receiver.
The Patriots then recovered an onside kick at the Cleveland 40 and a pass interference penalty on defensive back Leon McFadden set New England up at the Cleveland 1 because the infraction occurred in the end zone.
On the next snap, Brady rolled to his right and found Danny Amendola for the go-ahead score with 31 seconds left. The Patriots went for two and failed, giving the Browns an opportunity at winning with a field goal.
Cleveland nearly pulled it off.
Three completions by Campbell moved the ball to the New England 40, where Campbell spiked the ball to stop the clock with one second remaining.
Billy Cundiff's 58-yard try was short, however.
Brady finished with 418 yards and one interception on 32-of-52 passing.
Running back Shane Vereen was targeted 17 times by Brady and he made 12 grabs for 153 yards. He added a rushing touchdown for New England, which trailed 19-3 late in the third quarter.
The Patriots remain three games ahead of the second-place Dolphins in the division standings and can clinch their fifth straight AFC East title with a win next week at Miami.
Campbell, who missed last week's contest against Jacksonville, completed 29- off-44 passes for 391 yards, but the Browns (4-9) still lost their fourth game in a row.
Tight end Jordan Cameron and wideout Josh Gordon both had stellar performances for Cleveland. Cameron posted 121 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions, while Gordon totaled 151 yards and a score on seven grabs.
"Obviously, very disappointed in the outcome of the game. Not disappointed in the effort of our team and how they played today," said Browns coach Rob Chudzinski.
New England has developed a recent knack at getting off to slow starts before rallying in the second half. The Patriots trailed 17-7 at halftime in Houston last Sunday, a week after falling behind 24-0 at the half to the visiting Denver Broncos. Both times they battled back to win 34-31, the latter in overtime.
The Patriots were down 6-0 after 30 minutes to the Browns.
Their deficit grew to 12-0 when tight end Gary Barnidge caught a 40-yard TD pass. Cleveland failed on a two-point conversion.
Brady lost a fumble on the play following Gronkowski's injury, but the Browns were forced to punt.
New England finally got on the board via a Stephen Gostkowski 33-yard field goal with 1:37 left.
Gordon answered on the first play of the subsequent Cleveland drive. He caught a short toss and outran both Aqib Talib and Devin McCourty for an 80-yard TD.
Vereen factored in all three plays on the next New England possession. After receptions of 50 and 16 yards, he took a handoff and ran up the middle for a 6-yard TD. A two-point conversion closed the gap to 19-11 with six seconds remaining in the third.
Gostkowski drilled a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter before Cameron caught what appeared to be the decisive touchdown with under three minutes to play.