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5 Keys from Patriots' 45-7 win over Cleveland

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The Patriots raced out to a 24-7 halftime lead over the Cleveland Browns, en route to a dominant 45-7 win that gives them their fourth-straight win. Mac Jones turned in his best effort of the season, while rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson put up 100 rushing yards for the first time in his career and put up two touchdowns.

Defensively, the Patriots got another stellar effort. After allowing a long touchdown-scoring drive on the opening possession of the game, the New England D went into shutdown mode, chipping in another important takeaway and setting the stage for the offense to pull away.

Now 6-4, the Patriots continue their push into the group of AFC playoff contenders, with a quick turnaround coming this week to a Thursday night contest against the Atlanta Falcons.

Here are the keys takeaways from as impressive a victory as the Patriots have had in recent memory!

Offenses own the first quarter

There were but two drives in the first quarter, with the Browns going 11 plays for 84 yards and a touchdown to open the game and the Patriots responding with their own gritty 15-play, 83-yard drive that set a record under Bill Belichick by taking up a whopping 9:39 in game time.

For the Browns, they got great production early on from D'Ernest Johnson, who had 58 rushing yards on the drive, while they needed a fourth-down touchdown after two Patriot passes defended from the goal line. It was a textbook opening drive, but Cleveland would struggle to recreate that success.

Mac Jones had to overcome three third-and-longs on the Patriots' first drive as well as a 1st-and-20 after a holding call on Shaq Mason. Josh McDaniels mixed and matched personnel and plays, with Jones finding Hunter Henry for his sixth touchdown of the year to answer the Browns and tie the game at seven.

The Patriots offense would continue their fast start with an even more impressive drive on their third possession, going 99 yards in 11 plays with Mac finding Kendrick Bourne up the seam for a 23-yard touchdown pass that finished it off and extended the Patriots' lead at that point to 21-7.

New England's offense came out hot and stayed hot as they put together their most impressive game of the season.

Defense keeps delivering game-changing plays

After a relentless first drive by the Browns, the Patriots defense quickly got to third down on their second drive and Kyle Dugger jumped a route and grabbed his third interception of the season, returning it to the Cleveland five-yard-line. Rhamondre Stevenson would finish it off on the ensuing play as the Patriots quickly extended their lead early in the second quarter, 14-7.

It wasn't quite three straight games with a pick-six but it was close enough, the Patriots' defense continues to make game-changing plays.

With Damien Harris out due to a concussion, the rookie Stevenson exploded for 100 yards and two touchdowns as he built on his performance last week against the Panthers. It was particularly impressive considering Stevenson was unable to practice this week.

Third-down dominance

The Patriots raced out to a 21-7 lead on the back of their excellent play on third down on both sides of the ball. The offense got off to a perfect start, going 6-for-6, while the Browns couldn't convert any of their first four third downs.

It's the most important down in football and the Patriots dominated it on both sides of the ball. Credit goes to Josh McDaniels, whose offensive gameplan had the Browns off balance all game long.

And after a slow first drive, the defense kicked into gear, getting stops on early downs then getting off the field when they had the chance. Put it all together and it was a total team win, easily the best home win of the season.

For the game, the offense converted 7-of-9 third downs, while the defense allowed just one garbage time third-down conversion out of 11 total third downs.

Mac makes a statement

Mac Jones was lights out in the game, leading the Patriots on two 90-yard-plus touchdown-scoring drives, avoiding any costly turnovers and making some of the best throws he's made all season long. After seeing his stats stagnate a bit in recent wins, Jones did it all against Cleveland, putting together his most balanced effort, throwing short and long, while executing Josh McDaniels' game plan to perfection.

For the game, Mac finished 19-of-23 for 198 yards and three touchdowns with a 141.2 passer rating.

Patriots fans have to be feeling good about the young quarterback's development and control of the offense as the most important time in the football calendar draws closer.

Patriots are now 6-4

With four-straight wins, the Patriots are now 6-4 and streaking with seven games to go. In a muddled AFC they're certainly right in the thick of it, but with four losses there remains little margin for error and with upcoming matchups against some of the conference's iron, the Patriots appear headed for some epic contests against Tennessee, Buffalo and Indianapolis, with the possibility of an AFC East title still within striking distance.

But first, they're headed to Atlanta in four days to take on a Falcons team coming off a blowout loss to the Cowboys with a chance for a fifth-straight win and then an extended break that will come at a welcome time.

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