The Patriots offense exploded for 45 points on Sunday against the Browns, putting together their most balanced attack of the season as there's plenty of credit to spread around for the excellent performance.
Josh McDaniels pushed all the right buttons on offense, his game plan was outstanding at keeping defensive ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney from being any kind of game-changing factors. Trent Brown was a monstrous blocking force in his return, while the rest of the offensive line executed McDaniels' scheme showcasing their athleticism and toughness and even when they were opening up holes in the run game, Rhamondre Stevenson was breaking tackles and picking up yards-after-contact.
Perhaps most impressive was that rookie quarterback Mac Jones played mistake-free while spreading the ball all over the field, including near perfection while throwing downfield. Jones looked fully in control of the varied attack, showcasing excellent accuracy on a number of throws.
Here's what stood out most from the big win and one of the best offensive performances of the last two seasons.
Third Down Domination
The Patriots finished the game converting 7-of-9 third downs, as Jones' ability to deliver the ball in the most critical situations was one of the defining characteristics of the game. On the Patriots' first drive alone, the offense faced three third-and-longs and converted all of them. That was just the start of a near-unstoppable day on third down for the offense.
The Patriots now have the fourth-best third-down conversion rate in the NFL (46.9 percent), the team's highest conversion rate since the 2012 season (48.7 percent) when they were tops in the league. Obviously, third dows are critical and if the Patriots can continue to dominate in this fashion it bodes well for the trajectory of their offense.
Here are the third downs early in the game that set the tone for the Patriots. All were significant distance and nearly all were perfectly executed passing plays.
|1Q - 8:43 NE19||3rd-and-8||12 yards - Henry sits down in a zone|
|1Q - 6:52 NE35||3rd-and-6||7 yards - Meyers on a quick slant|
|1Q - 1:54 CLV23||3rd-and-13||20 yards - Perfect screen pass to Bolden|
|2Q - 8:34 NE33||3rd-and-5||12 yards - Bourne contested catch on dig route|
|2Q - 7:06 NE46||3rd-and-9||26 yards - Perfect fade to Meyers up sideline|
Stevenson and Bolden do it all
With Damien Harris out, it was Rhamondre Stevenson and Brandon Bolden stepping up and carrying the majority of the load on Sunday. Stevenson had two touchdowns and 100 yards, a performance made even more impressive by the fact that he did not practice last week. That's a big deal for a rookie player, especially when the game plan is as diverse as the one they executed against the Browns.
Bolden touched the ball just six times in the game but produced 70 yards of offense on those touches, including the 20-yard screen pass as well as a 22-yard rush.
Stevenson's finish was impressive, rushing for touchdowns from five and two yards out, but his ability to bounce off of tacklers and pick up yards-after-contact was what stood out most from the rookie's big day.
Nearly as impressive as the Patriots offensive performance on third down was how they finished in the red zone, going 5-for-6 for 83 percent. This has been an area of development for the offense this year, with some ups and downs, but the win over Cleveland was by far their best of the year. They still rank 18th in the league inside the red zone but are coming on.
Jones' first touchdown was a perfectly placed ball to the side of the end zone that fell into Hunter Henry's hands in just the right spot. Stevenson would power in for his five-yarder immediately after Kyle Dugger's interception. Then Jones would throw perhaps his prettiest ball of the season, finding Kendrick Bourne between two defenders up the seam for a 23-yard touchdown strike. Jones would also find Henry open in the seam for another touchdown later.
Everything was working for the offense, even in the tighter spacing near the goalline. Jones' anticipation and accuracy jumped off the screen, as he was perfectly placing balls all game long.
It's not hard to understand what happens when a team is unstoppable on third down and in the red zone and has a complementary ground game that picks up tough yards even when there aren't giant holes opened for them. The Patriots dominated those three phases of the game against the Browns and if they continue to do so, they'll be a handful for any defense they face.