The only thing that even had the outside chance of being described as rusty Sunday afternoon in Cleveland for Tom Brady's return to the NFL was the color of the Browns helmets.
Because No. 12 certainly showed anything but rust returning from his four-game Deflategate suspension as he marched right down the field for an eight-play, 80-yard drive to the 7-0 lead. By halftime he extended the advantage to 23-7 while notching passer rating of 133.9.
Brady looked far more rested and ready than rusty on the way to the 33-13 victory that had a large contingent of Patriots fans chanting their quarterback's name at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Oh, anyone wondering if he could build a quick rapport and timing with newcomers to the offense like Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan got their answer as Brady hit the tight end for three touchdowns and the versatile receiver for 100-plus yards, including a 63-yard big play.
And while Brady and the offense were clicking, New England's defense was shutting down Isaiah Crowell and the Browns No. 1-ranked rushing attack. Cleveland was held to just 27 yards on 22 attempts for a 1.2 avg., or put differently 4.5 yards per rush below their season average coming into the game.
Cleveland was pretty much overmatched on both sides of the ball, especially after rookie starter Cody Kessler was knocked from the game, and New England bounced back from the shutout loss a week earlier to the Bills.
The New England Patriots take on the Cleveland Browns in a regular season game at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday, October 9, 2016.
The offense churned out 501 yards of offense, while defense held the Browns to just 262.
Brady's back and so was domination.
"The team played really well. It was fun to be a part of it," Brady said. "4-1 is a pretty good place to be right now."
"Good complementary football in all three areas, Bill Belichick said. "Offensively we got some points early and it was good to play from ahead. Good to win on the road. Always tough."
Brady did his best to deflect big-picture questions or those about his return from suspension and his thoughts on the perceived injustice.
"I was just trying focus on what my job is and what I have to do. Felt like a normal week when I got down to it," Brady said, focusing on the team's overall task at hand as he so often does. "4-1 is a good place to be. We have a long road ahead. So we have to keep on working."
Before Brady and the Patriots get back to work for a return home to take on Bengals next Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, here are the highs and lows from the ultra-impressive day in Ohio.
Tom Brady – TB12 reintroduced himself to the NFL world in about as impressive a fashion as anyone could have possibly expected. Belichick tried to squash the big "Tom Brady returns" stories all week but that went out the window when Brady went out and blew out the Browns with his eighth career 400-yard passing performance. By the time Brady gave way to now-healthy backup Jimmy Garoppolo in the fourth quarter the living legend had completed 28 of 40 passes (70 percent) for 406 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 127.7 rating. Brady even had a first down run down the Browns sideline that he celebrated with a strange combination of Cam Newton's Dab and Usain Bolt's post-race celebration pointing to the sky. "I was excited," he said. Brady clearly had fun in his return, at the cost of the poor Browns defense.
Tight ends –Theoretical production came to on-field fruition against the Browns as Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett caught and ran their way to victory, combining for 11 catches for 176 yards with three scores. Gronkowski got the day rolling with two catches for 53 yards on the opening touchdown drive, on the way to a five-catch, 109-yard breakout performance that should answer concerns about his health. Bennett had six catches for a relatively modest 67 yards, though three went for touchdowns. New England's two-headed monster clearly enjoyed having Brady back and enjoyed beating up on the overmatched Browns defense.
Run defense –The focal point on defense was stopping the Browns rushing attack that entered the game leading the NFL. And the New England front – which included three defensive tackles at times in Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and practice-squad call-up Woodrow Hamilton – was on point all afternoon. Isaiah Crowell, who came in ranked second in the NFL in rushing while averaging a crazy 6.4-yards per carry, ran seven times for just 9 yards in the first half and finished with just 22 yards on 13 attempts for a 1.7-yard average. As a team the Browns had just 27 yards on 22 attempts. Those numbers speak for themselves.
Cyrus Jones –* *The rookie returner struggled early in coverage, allowing an 11-yard Andrew Hawkins touchdown in slot coverage that was way too easy for the Browns. A week after struggling in his decisions on kickoff returns, the top pick was pulled from the role. Last and far from least, Jones was ejected for throwing a punch at Hawkins after the Browns receiver tried to block him. The young player has a lot to improve upon after his first month-plus of NFL action, in many ways.
Stephen Gostkowski –New England's All-Pro kicker missed a field goal attempt for the second straight week, this one coming from 50 yards out. He bounced back to hit a 31-yard attempt later in the game but the fact that he already missed three kicks this season – he missed just three kicks all of last season, the earlier coming on Nov. 23 – is not a great sign after an inconsistent preseason. Gostkowski's resume is just about as impressive as any, but early this season he's been uncharacteristically shaky and needs to find a way to get back on track.
David Andrews – The second-year center has been a solid force in the middle of the New England line to open the year, but had his issues against the Browns. He had a couple poor shotgun snaps. He also had a holding call on a day when the line as a whole was never able to open much up on the ground. New England averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on the ground. LeGarrette Blount had just 37 yards on 18 carries. The ground game wasn't good. The pass protection was only OK. On a day when many things went right for the Patriots, Andrews could have been better up front.
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