The Patriots got their third win of the season in Cleveland, defeating the Browns 38-15 and evening their 2022 record at 3-3 with another all-around team effort.
Rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe had another solid performance, showing some impressive strides in his second start as more was asked of him when it came to throwing the ball. Zappe delivered by throwing two touchdowns, while big plays from Rhamondre Stevenson and Jonnu Smith helped New England build a lead that they did not relinquish thanks to a second-straight shutdown performance from their defense.
Kyle Dugger opened the game with an interception, while Jalen Mills added one of his own as the defense slowed Cleveland's offense for much of the game and put the clamps down at the very end to preserve a game that got close at the end. It was another all-around team win as New England is finding a familiar winning formula.
Here are the six key takeaways from the record-evening win!
Great start interrupted
The Patriots got the kind of fast start on defense that they always love, with Kyle Dugger picking off a bootleg throw by Jacoby Brissett on Cleveland's second offensive play of the game. Zappe and the offense took over at their own 36-yard line and put together an impressive first drive, overcoming two different false start penalties by starting tackles Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn, while also converting a 3rd-and-9 with a 29-yard fade up the sideline to DeVante Parker.
The drive would stall out though, with the Browns defense stepping up and closing the door on New England at their 1-yard line. It was an impressive goal-line stand by Cleveland, including two-straight interior run stuffs on Rhamondre Stevenson, and it forced the Patriots to settle for a 19-yard field goal that gave them a 3-0 lead.
The offense couldn't make the most of Dugger's interception but it was still a good start after deferring until the second half. However, the offense's red zone struggles continued.
Offense sloppy, defense stoppy
Despite making the game's first takeaway, the Patriots made many mistakes in the first quarter, including five total penalties on the offense, culminating in a Myles Garrett strip-sack of Zappe that handed the ball back to the Browns offense at the Patriots' 38-yard line.
The New England defense would step up though, first getting a stop on 3rd-and-6 a yard short of the line to gain, then getting ready for a Cleveland quick snap on fourth down and stuffing a Brissett quarterback sneak short to give the ball back to the offense. A week after coming through in a variety of special circumstances, the defense again showed a good ability to pick their offense up after a potential game-changing play.
The defense forced a punt on their next possession, setting up New England's best offensive drive of the first half. Zappe would hit four passing plays for more than 10 yards and then Rhamondre Stevenson finished it off with a 31-yard touchdown run on a 3rd-and-10 to put the Pats up 10-3. It was a nine-play, 92-yard scoring drive.
Cleveland was able to grind out a field-goal-scoring drive just before the half that included two third-down conversions. The Patriots bend-don't-break style kicked in though, getting a stop on 3rd-and-1 at their own 29-yard line and maintaining a 10-6 lead at the half.
The first half was far from perfect, but the Pats played complementary football to help them build a lead heading into the second half.
Big play Jonnu, big score Tyquan
The Pats got off to another great start in the second half when Zappe found Jonnu Smith for a 53-yard catch and run, the longest play from scrimmage this season for the Patriots, setting up a second-straight possession for a touchdown score. This was the kind of play Patriots fans have been waiting for from Smith, who returned from one missed game due to an ankle injury and made a major impact with the big play.
The offense would slow inside the Browns' five-yard line again, facing a 3rd-and-goal from the 2-yard line, but Zappe was able to find rookie Tyquan Thornton for the touchdown score. It was a welcome play on multiple fronts, as New England converted in the red zone and extended their lead to 17-6.
With growing contributions from two players that haven't done much over the first five games, the start of the second half was well executed and another reason for some growing excitement on offense. They set the tone for an impending win with a great drive out of the halftime break.
Mills Interception, Henry TD ices it
The Browns costly mistakes continued into the second half, with Brissett throwing his second interception of the game, this time to Jalen Mills. Down by 11, Cleveland's margin for error was quickly deteriorating and Brissett's second-down throw was well off the mark thanks to pass rush pressure from Ja'Whaun Bentley, giving Mills an easy takeaway.
The offense would respond this time with a touchdown score when it looked like they might hit another stop sign just outside the 20-yard line. On 3rd-and-1, Patriots offensive coaches stayed aggressive, using play action for Zappe to find Hunter Henry for a 31-yard touchdown that made it 24-6.
Things get "especially" interesting late
After the Patriots made it 24-6 it looked like they might run away with it, but as has been the case with the Browns all season long they made things interesting in the fourth quarter. The Patriots had their chances to put it away again, even after Cleveland made it 24-9, but a missed field goal by Nick Folk led to an 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive by the Browns that closed the score to 24-15 after a missed two-point attempt.
The Browns would then attempt an onside kick that was initially ruled as a recovery for Cleveland, but upon further review the call was overturned and the ball given to New England. The Patriots were unable to pick up a first down, punting the ball back to the Browns with under five minutes to go and that's when special teams came through, with Brendan Schooler recovering a muffed punt deep inside Cleveland territory.
Tyquan Thornton took an end around to the house on the next play for his second touchdown of the game to close it out.
Patriots are 3-3
With the win the Patriots even their season record at 3-3, with two wins in a row behind a rookie quarterback. Zappe showed good development in his second start, but once again the Patriots defense showed they're one of the best units in the league, holding the top-ranked Browns rushing offense under wraps throughout the game. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt struggled to get going and as a result, the Browns experienced their most decisive loss of the season.
In the passing game, New England didn't get to Brissett much early, but continued their tight coverage and challenged every throw that the Browns' quarterback attempted. Later the pass rush picked up and helped close out the game.
Now back to .500, the Patriots will welcome the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football next week with the chance to move their way up to a winning record on the season.