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Game Observations: Defense's hot start helps Patriots wash away Browns

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The Patriots once again followed the lead of their defense, who forced three first-quarter turnovers and was the driving force of an early 17-0 lead, en route to finishing off the Browns 27-13. The offense got big plays from Phillip Dorsett and James White and found just enough production otherwise to keep pace with a Browns offense that had more sustained success than most opponents this season.

Nick Chubb led the way for Cleveland with 131 rushing yards but it just wasn’t enough to overcome their penalties and turnovers which torpedoed any chance at success, despite stymieing the Patriots offense for much of the game. The Pats offense finished just 2-for-6 in the red zone, underlining that they still haven't found their "it all clicks" game.

New England moved to 8-0 for the third time in team history and first time since 2015, while head coach Bill Belichick secured his 300th career coaching victory, 3rd-most in NFL history.

Here’s what else stood out in the game observations!

-After trading punts for their first two possessions, the Patriots got a nice 33-yarder to Phillip Dorsett and a fourth-down conversion to Julian Edelman to set up the first score of the game, a field goal. The drive featured plenty of two tight ends and featured some decent ground success with Michel. Still, they were stopped short on third-and-goal from the two-yard-line as short yardage continues to be an issue.

-It took just two plays of the Browns second drive for The Boogeymen to strike again, with a forced fumbled credited to Lawrence Guy but which was actually kicked out by one of the Browns own players. It was scooped-and-scored by Dont’a Hightower from 26 yards out. The defense just continues to beat opponents almost single-handedly. It was the sixth defensive/special teams touchdown of the season for the Pats.

-Just as it looked like the Browns were immediately going to get back into the game with a long 44-yard run from Nick Chubb, Jonathan Jones’ strong strip forced him to cough it up and Devin McCourty dug it out of the pile for the recovery. Even when they have a bad play, the defense is finding a way to turn it into a positive. Their compete level is remains even-keeled.

-The offense tried to get Mohamed Sanu involved early but both targets fell incomplete. Sanu’s first catch came on fourth down late in the second quarter. It was a close play and a nice way to get things going for the new receiver, earning some trust in a critical situation. Sanu’s quickness off the line and physicality was immediately apparent in his debut. He’d finish with two catches for 23 yards.

-The defense just kept pouring it on with Lawrence Guy intercepting a shovel pass in the backfield after the offense was forced to punt again. It set the Patriots up at the Browns 11-yard-line and they’d finish it off two players later with Brady’s eight-yard touchdown to Julian Edelman. Yes, the defense forced three turnovers in the first quarter alone. In a season already full of remarkable plays by the defense this was one of the more ridiculous, especially since it made three-straight Browns offensive plays with a turnover. Those three plays basically won the game for the Patriots.

-The Browns put together a nice drive in the second quarter, riding Nick Chubb on a six-play, 54-yard drive that was finished off with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Harris. Aside from their turnovers, the Browns had a good offensive plan, working the quick throws to get their receivers in space against the Pats secondary. Getting Harris matched up on Hightower downfield worked perfectly and is one of the few times we’ve seen an offense exploit a matchup against the defense.

-The Patriots offense found some more success on their drive late in the first half but flamed out at the Browns 11 and the field goal attempt was blocked. It was a 13-play drive but outside of Edelman’s 23-yard reception, they needed three Browns penalties and only had two plays over five yards on the drive.

-The Browns came out in the second half and put together one of the best drives the Patriots defense has seen all season - a 12-play, 55-yard drive that ended in a field goal. The Browns had Nick Chubb go over 100 yards for the game on the drive, illustrating what a key piece he is for them and the struggles the Pats had against the run while playing mostly two-defensive-linemen fronts. Even when the holes weren’t there, Chubb made tough yards.

-The Patriots offense was stagnant until a 59-yard screen pass to James White finally sparked things in the second half, it was the final turning point of the game. Brady would finish things off with his second touchdown pass of the game to Edelman, giving the Patriots a 24-10 lead. The offense has done their fair share of treading water this year, but they don’t beat themselves and it’s just a matter of time before they make enough plays to give them an insurmountable lead.

-New England’s offense would put together another good drive in the fourth quarter that went 11 plays for 62 yards and finished with a field goal. Big plays to Sanu (19 yards) and Ben Watson (26 yards) were a couple of nice contributions from newer faces. The Patriots need more of those and finding ways to generate more consistent non-Edelman offense is a big key going forward.

Once again we didn’t really learn anything new about the 2019 Patriots. The defense continued their historic pace while the offense was up and down but did enough to maintain the win. There were minor flashes by the auxiliary weapons, but it remains Edelman, White and everyone else.

Finding a consistent offensive rhythm remains a goal and it seems like now, with Sanu and Watson, and soon Harry and Wynn, they are finally locked in on who they'll play the meaningful football games with. They just have to get and keep that group healthy, and get them to all start playing consistent complimentary football. If they do that, with Tom Brady at the helm, anything is possible.

Defensively, they just have to keep doing what they’re doing for 11 more games. And if they do that, nothing else really matters.

The Patriots will travel to Baltimore on Sunday 11/3 to take on the Ravens on national television at 8:20pm before hitting their bye week.

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