When the Patriots ran:
The Patriots reverted to the pass-first approach they normally take with Tom Brady at the controls but that didn't help LeGarrette Blount much at all. Despite the fact that Cleveland was playing pass for most of the day, Blount never found any daylight and was completely suffocated throughout. He finished with a dismal 37 yards despite racking up 18 carries (2.1-yard average) and that included a 13-yard scamper on his first attempt. Blount was ineffective early, near the goal line late in the second quarter and late when the Patriots were trying to run the clock out. The line gave him little help, but he also was slow out of the backfield and failed to move the pile on a pair of goal line carries from the 1 in which he was held out of the end zone. James White provided a bit of a spark with five carries for 26 yards but over New England managed just 98 yards on 35 carries (2.8-yard average). That's not good enough.
When the Patriots passed:
The above didn't matter in the least because Brady was vintage Brady right from the start. Despite sitting around for the past month, The Franchise lit it up early and often, using his two tight ends exactly in the manner the Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels dreamed when the acquired Martellus Bennett. Brady found them both for big plays, hitting Bennett six times for 67 yards and three touchdowns while integrating Rob Gronkowski in the passing game for the first time this season to the tune of five catches for 109 yards. The Browns had no answers, especially after the athletic tight ends had the ball in their hands. Brady wound up completing 28 of 40 for 405 yards and the three TDs for a rating of 127.7. He also established an immediate connection with Chris Hogan, who finished with a career high 114 yards on his four catches. Brady even ran effectively, picking up a pair of first downs on his two scrambles. Aside from an occasional misfire there were no discernible examples of rust despite his claims of such afterward. The offense racked up better than 500 yards and 31 points, and Brady was responsible for most of it.
When the Browns ran:
Despite Brady's heroics, this might have been the most impressive aspect of the game for the Patriots. Using a heavier defensive line for the second straight week, this time featuring practice squad call-up Woodrow Hamilton with Malcom Brown and Alan Branch, New England completely dominated the Browns rushing attack. Isaiah Crowell entered the game as the AFC's leading rusher and was limited to 22 yards on 13 carries for a 1.7-yard average. As a team Cleveland finished with 22 carries for 27 yards – an average of 1.2 per rush. Those are numbers usually only seen in college when the I-AA teams try to play against the big boys. The big boys in this case were the aforementioned defensive tackles, who controlled the line of scrimmage and forced Crowell to avoid traffic before getting started. Rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts saw his most extensive playing time of the season and led the team with seven tackles. Even when the Browns fell behind and tried to stick with the run anyway, the Patriots were having none of it. A truly dominant performance by the guys up front.
When the Browns passed:
This edge may have belonged to New England but this wasn't anywhere near as strong a performance as the run defense turned in. Early on it seemed Cleveland might actually have some success through the air. Rookie Cody Kessler led an impressive 75-yard drive by coming up with a number of key throws. He hit Andrew Hawkins for 16 yards to open the drive, then converted a pair of third downs with throws to Crowell (18 yards) and Terrelle Pryor (10 yards) to keep the sticks moving. He then tied the game with an 11-yard touchdown to Hawkins, who badly beat rookie Cyrus Jones out of the slot. Fortunately for the Patriots secondary, Kessler was knocked out of the game on the first play of the next series and backup Charlie Whitehurst was extremely erractic as his replacement. Kessler was 5 of 8 for 62 yards and a touchdown but Whitehurst only hit 14 of 24 throws for 182 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He missed a number of open targets and also showed little pocket presence. That helped the secondary settle down a bit and force a number of punts, which allowed the Patriots to remain in control.
There weren't a lot of key plays in the kicking game, and Stephen Gostkowski missed his third field goal of the season, but the Patriots managed to do enough to get the edge. Gostkowski pushed a 50-yarder to the right late in the second quarter but once again had some success with his high, short kickoffs. Tracy Howard managed to take the opening kick back 17 yards to the Browns 26 but Barkevious Mingo made him pay on his next attempt when he drilled Howard at the 12. Mingo was outstanding in coverage all afternoon. Julian Edelman relieved Jones of his punt return duties while Matthew Slater replaced the rookie on kickoffs. Ryan Allen was effective once again, allowing the coverage to keep the dangerous Duke Johnson under wraps. Neither side managed much in the return game but the Patriots had the edge in field position, which forced the young Browns playing with their backup quarterback to string together multiple first downs throughout the day.