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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered and Patriots Playbook Fri Dec 03 - 10:00 PM | Mon Dec 06 - 05:55 PM

Game Observations: Near-perfect Patriots pile up points

2021-GameObservations-16x9

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Forgot about that 54-point outburst the Patriots had against the Jets a few weeks back. This latest blowout win was much more impressive because it happened against a much better opponent, albeit a banged up one.

The Browns came to Foxborough with the same 5-4 record as New England and fresh off a lopsided win of their own over a division rival, a 41-16 road thrashing of the Cincinnati Bengals.

The first quarter gave no indication, though, that this would be as dominant an effort as it turned out to be for New England. Both offenses mounted almost identical, workmanlike, sustained drives on their first possessions, both ending in goal-to-go situations and touchdown tosses to tight ends.

The turning point seemed to arrive only a few plays later. With the Browns deep in their own side of the 50, QB Baker Mayfield tossed a short, 2nd-down pass to his left that went right through the hands of his intended receiver, Donovan Peoples-Jones. The receiver missed the last two days of practice this week because of a personal matter, so, perhaps his mind wasn't entirely focused on this game.

Nevertheless, Cleveland faced a 3rd-and-long as a result of that drop. Mayfield's next throw, to his right and to the outside, was intercepted by safety Kyle Dugger, who stepped in front of the throw intended for tight end David Njoku. Dugger raced 37 yards to the Cleveland 5-yard line before being forced out of bounds.

Very next play, rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson – himself having taken zero practice snaps this past week due to a concussion – followed a pair of nice blocks and waltzed into the Browns' end zone to help give New England a 14-7 lead they'd never relinquish.

Thereafter, the Browns looked like they'd been completely knocked off-balance. Even without four of their best running backs available to them today (because of COVID and injury), the Browns ran the ball very effectively on their opening drive with veteran D'Ernest Johnson. Post-INT, though, Cleveland appeared to panic and abandon the run for the most part, yet Mayfield couldn't get much going through the air.

By contrast, the Patriots and rookie QB Mac Jones played about as perfect a game of football as we've seen from them this season. A very solid Browns defense had no answers for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' play calls. For example, Cleveland came into this game holding other teams to an average of just 85 yards rushing per game. By halftime, New England already had 120. Stevenson had 78 of those on his own, including a five-yard touchdown. He'd finish with precisely 100 yards on 20 carries and two TDs.

New England also used screen passes and three end-arounds to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne that took advantage of the Browns' defensive aggressiveness versus the run. Most notably, the Patriots put together not one, not two, but THREE 90-plus-yard scoring drives.

Meantime, the Patriots' defense seems to be growing in confidence with each passing week and each big play they make. Let's take a closer look at some other factors that led to today's important conference win:

* * *

Jones has been a proficient passer throughout his first 10 NFL games, and today was no exception. In fact, it might have been his most impressive effort thus far. Of his four incompletions, one was flat-out dropped by Stevenson (seemed he turned his head up-field before securing the ball in his hands – a frequent mistake players make at all levels), another was batted down at the line of scrimmage, and a third Jones threw away to avoid a sack. So, by my count, he had just one errant throw against Cleveland and was confident throwing downfield. His best toss of the day may have been one that didn't count, a rope to TE Hunter Henry inside the Cleveland 5-yard line that was called back as a result of a hands-to-the-face penalty by left tackle Isaiah Wynn.

* * *

Mac Jones on the day

Table inside Article
Attempts Completions Yards Sack/Yards TD Long INT
23 19 198 2/15 3 26 0

Mac Jones vs. CLE

Table inside Article
Total Throwaways Overthrows Underthrows Batted Passes Drops Passes Defensed INT
4 1 1 0 1 1 0 0

Mac Jones in 2021

Table inside Article
Total Throwaways Overthrows Underthrows Batted Passes Drops Passes Defensed INT
100 11 31 13 5 8 25 7

Speaking of the O-line, we saw Trent Brown at right tackle for the first time since Week 1, when he injured his right calf. Brown didn't seem to miss a beat. Mike Onwenu had been the right tackle starter the past three weeks after moving over from left guard, but Onwenu yielded to Brown for most of this game. The Patriots kept the rest of the offensive line intact, with Shaq Mason at right guard, David Andrews at center, Ted Karras your left guard, and Wynn in his customary left tackle position. Onwenu subbed in for Brown briefly at the end of the first half. Otherwise, it was Brown's job and he held it down well.

Wynn, by the way, atoned for his first-half penalty by later making a fantastic pancake block on a Bourne screen pass toward the end of the third quarter. Overall, the O-line did a wonderful job of protecting Jones from an otherwise vaunted Browns defensive front.

* * *

Henry had another big day receiving, with two TD grabs making up half his catches (he caught all four passes thrown to him). The tight end position went without Jonnu Smith Sunday because of a shoulder injury that's limited him in recent weeks, but Henry proved more than capable of shouldering the load at his position. Even with two scores, Henry's best catch might have been his diving effort at the 40-yard line along the Patriots sideline in the mid-third quarter.

* * *

After two-and-a-half seasons, it finally happened for wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. He caught his first NFL touchdown during the 4th quarter, and it sent nearly the entire Patriots team sprinting from the sideline to celebrate with him in the end zone.

Sadly, the celebration was muted by a frightening scene thereafter. The defender whose would-be tackle Meyers escaped on his way to the end zone, cornerback Troy Hill, suffered a serious injury that required him to be taken off the field in a stretcher. Hill was down and not moving much for several minutes before the medical staff eventually brought him inside for further evaluation and treatment. Meyers said after the game that he's praying for a speedy recovery for Hill, as do we all.

* * *

Edge rusher Matthew Judon knocked Mayfield out of the game in the late 3rd quarter, then registered a shared sack (with LB Dont'a Hightower) on the very next play when backup Case Keenum replaced Mayfield. With seven games to go in 2021, Judon has now equaled his career-high of 9.5 sacks. "Hopefully, I can continue to roll," Judon said later about reaching that mark.

* * *

With no Gunner Olszewski (out with a concussion), Meyers was inserted to return punts, but he didn't field any of the three that went to him. J.J. Taylor and Brandon Bolden each returned one kickoff in Olszewski's absence.

* * *

Powerful Play/Player of the Game presented by Enel

Dugger's INT. It changed the entire complexion of the game and allowed the Patriots to dictate how it would unfold. Sure, the Browns were missing some key components offensively, but Dugger and the defense dominated a potent Browns offense all game, the opening drive notwithstanding.

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