December 3, 2001 at 3:32 PM EST - Updated June 30 at 1:05 AM
By HOWARD ULMAN, AP Sports Writer
FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) - Troy Brown returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown, caught seven passes and still wasn't satisfied after New England's latest victory.
Neither were his teammates. A 27-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday and the Patriots' surprising 8-5 record puts them in good shape for a playoff berth -- but it's not good enough for them to let up.
"Everybody would say I had a great game today. I thought it was just good," Brown said. "I saw a lot of things I could have done better and I think that's what keeps me going."
While quarterback Tom Brady has been the poster boy for the Patriots' resurgence, he was merely steady Sunday as some of his teammates made key plays.
Antowain Smith ran for touchdowns of 1 and 5 yards, Adam Vinatieri kicked two field goals, Tebucky Jones, Terrell Buckley and Anthony Pleasant intercepted passes and the defense held Cleveland without an offensive touchdown.
"Every game we win makes the next one bigger," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
New England, 7-2 in its last nine games, plays at Buffalo (2-10) next Sunday then faces Miami at home before finishing at Carolina (1-12).
It seems like a smooth path to their first playoff berth in three years, but the Patriots are cautious.
"We're definitely in the driver's seat as far as being in the playoffs," said Brown, the 198th player drafted in 1993, "but Buffalo bothers me a lot. They've lost some close games."
So have the Browns (6-6), who dropped two overtime decisions and lost another game by three points.
On Sunday, the team that was third in turnover ratio in the NFL committed four turnovers while forcing just two.
"We're not a good enough team to turn the ball over," quarterback Tim Couch said.
They are better than the Browns who went 5-27 the last two seasons before Butch Davis became coach. Still, the loss seriously hurts their postseason chances.
"You can't go in and watch film and say we had 50 good plays and 10 to 15 really rotten, lousy plays," Davis said. "You can't turn the ball over and you can't give up punt returns for touchdowns."
Brown's touchdown put the Patriots ahead to stay, 17-10 with 3:28 left in the first half. He got two key blocks.
"I saw Lawyer (Milloy) coming to kick out the last guy I saw, and the next thing I saw was (tackle) Richard Seymour creaming the kicker," Brown said. "It was free sailing from there."
Vinatieri's 38-yard field goal made it 20-10 before Cleveland cut the lead to 20-16 on field goals of 39 and 22 yards by Phil Dawson.
But the Browns didn't score again.
"They mixed up the fronts a lot," said Couch, who was sacked three times. "We felt like we were in the game right up until the end, but they did a good job every time we got close."
Smith's 5-yard touchdown came with 2:43 left. His knee hit the ground at the 1 before the ball crossed the goal line, but the Browns didn't challenge the call.
"It took us a little while to get the running game going," said Smith, who gained 76 yards on 21 carries, "We got it going at the right time."
Cleveland's only lead was 10-3 on Corey Fuller's 49-yard interception return late in the first quarter. The Browns added two interceptions to their NFL-high 25.
Smith tied the game with a 1-yard run before Brown's punt return touchdown. Brown also achieved career highs of 85 catches and 1,033 yards.
But he has no preference for receiving or returning.
"I just want to get the ball," he said.
Notes: Brady was 19-of-28 (67.8 percent). It ended his streak of games at 70 percent or more at four. Only Joe Montana, with eight, had more. ... Jamir Miller had two sacks and leads Cleveland with 10. ... Terry Glenn had four catches for 76 yards in his second game with the Patriots in a season in which he was sidelined by two suspensions and a hamstring injury. ... Cleveland starting tight end Aaron Shea didn't return after hurting his left shoulder in the first quarter.
(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)