The Patriots offense has done what they've needed to do over the last two games after exploding against the Jets for 551 yards and 53 points. Against quality opponents Los Angeles and Carolina, they've made just enough clutch plays, gotten a little help from some defensive scores and managed to overcome some penalties and turnovers that hurt them.
It hasn't been perfect, but they're getting the job done and, at 5-4, have bought themselves more time to continue to develop. But his week against a potent Browns defense, they'll likely need their best effort yet, as Cleveland features two imposing pass rushers off the edge in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney and a speedy and cohesive group of linebackers and defensive backs behind them.
"Everybody's just getting more comfortable each and every week, finding that role getting better at their role so we're better as an overall group," said Kendrick Bourne of the progress the Patriots offense has made. "The pieces are coming together and we're getting the results we want."
If they're to continue to get those results, they'll need to eliminate the self-defeating mistakes, while also continuing to win games as a team in all three phases. But the players remain optimistic their best football is still ahead of them.
"It's about greatness, that's what our standard is," continued Bourne. "It's hard to win in this league, the way we've been doing it is how we need to do it, in every phase of the game. We're playing a lot of complementary football. Execution's key for anything."
Of course, some of the unevenness can be attributed to four new offensive weapons and a rookie quarterback who are all learning to play the game the way Josh McDaniels wants them to and even then, it's still been a promising first half of the season. But promising is one thing and hitting a new level and making the playoffs is another.
With Mac Jones under center, the offense continues to rally around each other and build toward that kind of output.
"I love the kid man," said Nelson Agholor of Jones. "I would have to say that the most special thing about him is his passion and his discipline toward the game of football. He has a very special discipline in which he takes little things very hard and my job as always is to try to remind him how gifted and how hard he already works, that he can't allow those little things to nag on him because he has to move on."
Together, Jones, Agholor and Bourne will take to the air this weekend, especially if the Patriots are shorthanded in the backfield. Either way, Cleveland is one of the league's best run defenses and one unlikely to be exploited. Add it all together and the Pats' passing game will be a major key to victory where they'll have to keep an eye out for Denzel Ward, one of the ascending cornerbacks in the NFL.
"I like Denzel Ward, I respect his game, he's been playing really well." said Bourne of the defender who returned a 99-yard pick-six last week against the Bengals, the second-longest interception return in Browns history.
"Special player," concurred Agholor on Ward. "I think he has great cover skills, great feet, great vision. And I think he has great ball skills too. I have to say his speed and his ability to cover is up there with some of the best."
However, Ward is just one part of a talented secondary and defense that is coming into their own.
"They've got a good record, they're in the same boat as us and feel good about themselves coming into this game," said Bourne, as the matchup should play a significant factor in the playoff picture.
"They're legit on all three levels," said Agholor. "You have to respect them, the organization has done a good job putting together quality defense and it showed with the record and the performance on tape."
Practice & Injury Report
The Patriots welcomed back Matthew Judon to Thursday's practice after the birth of his daughter on Wednesday and a day after Trent Brown made his post-IR debut, Chase Winovich made one of his own. The three-week window will now begin for both the tackle and defender as they try to work their way back into the lineup.
Unfortunately, the running back group remained sparse, with Damien Harris (concussion) and Rhamondre Stevenson (concussion) not spotted for the second day in a row. Gunner Olszewski (concussion) and Jamie Collins (ankle) were also among the missing from the early stretching portion of practice. The Patriots are lining up to have some significant concerns at running back and returner for the game against the Browns. Friday's practice will be the last chance for any of the recovering players to get some prep time.
Nine players on the Patriots were listed as limited, while Myles Garrett missed his second practice of the week for the Browns.