FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The New England Patriots lost star tight end Rob Gronkowski before staging an improbable comeback victory, 27-26 over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes in 30 seconds, including a 1-yarder to wide receiver Danny Amendola with 31 seconds left - after New England recovered an onside kick that hit Cleveland running back Fozzy Whitaker's before it went 10 yards, allowing the Patriots to recover. It was the first successful New England onside kick since 1995 (against the old Browns).
The Browns were flagged for two penalties that contributed to their loss. The first came after a 2-yard TD pass to Julian Edelman, who was roughed in the end zone. That brought the kickoff to the 50. Brady threw the ball into the end zone to rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce and the Browns were called for pass interference.
Cleveland kicker Billy Cundiff came up short on a 58-yard field goal as time ran out. The Patriots left with their consecutive come-from-behind win to improve to 10-3, three games ahead of 7-6 Miami in the AFC East.
But the rest of the 2013 season will likely be played without Gronkowski. According to multiple reports, he suffered a torn ACL in the third quarter, when the Patriots trailed 12-0.
Brady had 95 yards passing and a passer rating of 31.7 in the first half. He finished 32-for-52 for 418 yards and a 91.7 rating. He threw an interception and lost a fumble.
Playing in his seventh game after returning from offseason back and arm surgeries, Gronkowski's right leg was clobbered by safety T.J. Ward in the third quarter and had to be carted off the field. TV cameras captured Gronkowski yelling "my leg."
Coach Bill Belichick reported after the game that Gronkowski was at the hospital to evaluate "his injuries."
Browns quarterback Jason Campbell, playing after missing last week's game with a concussion, threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns for the Browns.
Cundiff kicked first-half field goals of 43 and 37 yards as the Browns, who had allowed 100 points during a three-game losing streak but played strong defense most of the way Sunday, fell to 4-9.
Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon, looking for his third straight 200-yard game, had seven catches for 151 yards to become Cleveland's all-time single-season leader in receiving yards. The first player ever with back-to-back 200-yard receiving games had an 80-yard catch and touchdown run.
Tight end Jordan Cameron had nine catches for 121 yards and a late touchdown.
On the play before Gronkowski was injured, Ward was called for interference on Gronkowski on what looked like an uncatchable ball. Then came the big play, a 21-yard gain that ended when Gronkowski was square on the knee. Players on both teams, including Ward, shook hands with him after the was helped onto the cart; Gronkowski waving to the crowd as the cart drove off.
NOTES: Patriots WRs Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins were out of the New England lineup, while the recently re-signed Austin Collie dressed and had one reception for four yards. ... QB Caleb Hanie, signed earlier in the week, was the Cleveland backup. ... Cleveland LB Craig Robertson returned after missing two games with a sprained knee, but OG John Greco left in the first half with a knee injury. ... After a penalty-free game last week, the Patriots' first of five penalties of this game was a for too many men on the field, leading to the Browns' second field goal. ... RB Stevan Ridley, not dressed in Houston because of fumble issues, played and contributed, while RB Brandon Bolden didn't dress. ... Patriots RB Shane Vereen had eight catches and his first 100-yard receiving day. His 12 receptions for 153 yards were game-highs. ... The Browns host the Chicago Bears next week, while the Patriots are in Miami.