Nine Takeaways From Patriots’ Blowout Win Over Browns

The Patriots raced away from the Browns for their second straight win

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Oct 16, 2022

CLEVELAND — Don’t look now, but the New England Patriots are back to .500.

The Patriots notched their second consecutive victory Sunday, holding off a late Cleveland Browns comeback bid to win 38-15 at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Quarterback Bailey Zappe, starting his second straight game in place of the injured Mac Jones, powered the Patriots’ offense by throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, the Patriots held the Browns to one touchdown and forced four turnovers.

After dropping three of their first four games, the Patriots now sit at 3-3, with winnable games against the Chicago Bears, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts up next on their schedule.

The result also brought Bill Belichick into a tie with George Halas for second on the all-time wins list for head coaches (324). Only Don Shula has more.

Here are nine takeaways from Sunday’s win:

1. More defensive dominance
Just as they did against the Detroit Lions in Week 5, the Patriots neutralized one of the league’s top rushing offenses. They held NFL rushing leader Nick Chubb to 56 yards on 12 carries and running mate Kareem Hunt to 12 yards on four carries despite missing two of their top D-linemen (Lawrence Guy and Christian Barmore) for much of the game.

New England also bamboozled Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett, intercepting two ill-advised passes — one by Kyle Dugger on the second play of the game and another by Jalen Mills in the third quarter — and generating consistent pressure with Matthew Judon and Deatrich Wise. Brissett completed just 46.7% of his passes (21 of 45) and was sacked four times.

The Browns did not find the end zone until the 6:17 mark of the fourth quarter, with Amari Cooper beating Myles Bryant for a contested touchdown on fourth-and-goal. The Patriots’ defense has allowed just 15 total points during its two-game win streak. Next up: a Monday night matchup with a Chicago Bears team that entered the weekend ranked 29th in the NFL in points per game.

The Patriots iced the game with late fumble recoveries by Brenden Schooler (off a muffed punt) and Carl Davis. New England turned both into insurance touchdowns to pull away.

2. Zappe dazzles
Entering Sunday, the key to victory for the Patriots seemed to be to bludgeon the Browns’ woeful run defense — the worst in the NFL by some metrics — with their powerful, Rhamondre Stevenson-led run game. Instead, Cleveland actually held Stevenson in check for the majority of the afternoon. But it couldn’t stop Zappe.

The fourth-round rookie followed up his impressive first start with an even stronger showing, completing 70.6% of his passes and posting a passer rating of 118.4. Zappe spread the ball around — five Patriots players caught four passes, and four topped 60 receiving yards, with none surpassing 65 — and again avoided obvious mistakes. All three of his turnovers this season (one interception, two lost fumbles) have resulted from teammates’ mistakes.

3. Stevenson sparks
With a hamstring injury rendering Damien Harris unavailable, Rhamondre Stevenson carried the load for the Patriots’ rushing attack. The second-year back couldn’t replicate the 161-yard explosion he enjoyed against Detroit, but he provided one of the game’s most important plays: a 31-yard touchdown run on a third-and-10 draw.

Stevenson followed key blocks by Mike Onwenu, David Andrews and Hunter Henry and then outran cornerback Martin Emerson to the end zone. Tied 3-3 at the time, the Patriots never trailed again.

With only unproven rookies Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris behind him on the depth chart, the Patriots leaned heavily on Stevenson. They didn’t run an offensive play without him on the field until there were less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter. He finished with 76 yards on 19 carries and also punched in a 6-yard touchdown that closed out the scoring.

4. Cleveland TE party
Afterthoughts in the Patriots’ offense for the first five weeks, high-priced tight ends Hunter and Jonnu Smith put together their finest collective performance of the season. Smith, who missed the previous game with ankle injury, caught just two passes, but one was a 53-yard catch-and-run — his longest gain as a Patriot to date.

Henry finished with four catches for 61 yards, including a wide-open 31-yard touchdown. It was the first score of the season for Henry, who had a team-high nine in 2021.

5. Isaiah Wynn benched (again)
For the second time in three weeks, the Patriots booted Wynn from his right tackle spot and replaced him with Marcus Cannon.

Like Wynn’s first benching, this one came after Wynn surrendered a strip-sack to a star edge rusher. The Browns switched Myles Garrett, who typically rushes from the defensive right, to the opposite side of the line on a second-and-14 late in the first quarter, and he breezed past Wynn and knocked the ball out of Zappe’s hand for a fumble that Cleveland recovered.

When the Patriots returned to the field for their next offensive series, Cannon was in the game, and Wynn was on the sideline. The embattled 2018 first-rounder also was flagged for a false start earlier in the game, upping his NFL-high penalty total to eight on the season.

6. Penalties, penalties, penalties
The Patriots committed eight of them in the first half alone, which would have been their highest total in any game this season. By game’s end, they’d racked up 12 for 92 yards, including 10 on the offense.

Despite the comfortable victory, expect Bill Belichick to make discipline a point of emphasis as the Patriots prepare for Week 7.

7. Injuries mount
Already without Jones, Harris, Guy, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, cornerback Jonathan Jones, and linebacker Josh Uche, all of whom were inactive Sunday, the Patriots proceeded to lose three more players to injury during the game.

Wideout Kendrick Bourne injured his toe during New England’s first offensive possession, and though he remained on the sideline for the duration, he never reentered the game. Barmore suffered a knee injury during the second quarter and subsequently was ruled out. Special teams ace Cody Davis went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury shortly thereafter and was ruled out within minutes.

8. Tyquan Thorton breaks out
The injuries to Agholor and Bourne resulted in hefty playing time for rookie Tyquan Thorton, who lined up alongside Jakobi Meyers and DeVante Parker in England’s three-receiver sets. In his second game back from a preseason collarbone injury, Thornton caught four passes on five targets for 37 yards and a touchdown, shaking cornerback Greedy Williams to haul in a goal-line strike from Zappe.

Later, Thornton added another touchdown on a 19-yard jet sweep, showing off his rare speed as he cut through the Browns’ secondary.

This was another banner day for the Patriots’ rookie class as a whole. First-year cornerbacks Jack Jones and Marcus Jones both played large defensive roles with Jonathan Jones sidelined, and each registered a pass breakup. Marcus Jones also saw frequent work as an outside corner — a change from what we saw during the summer, when he primarily played in the slot.

9. Mac Jones is getting closer
The Patriots ultimately determined Jones was not ready to return Sunday, but he made the trip to Cleveland and was on the field during pregame warmups, chatting with teammates and playing catch with Zappe. It was clear during this period that Jones would not be active — he didn’t go through his usual stretching routine, and his injured ankle wasn’t taped — but he clearly is making steady progress in his recovery. The visible limp he walked with for the first two weeks post-injury is gone, and he watched the game from the sideline in sweats.

Barring any setbacks over the next eight days, it wouldn’t be surprising if Jones is medically ready to play next Monday night against Chicago. But with Zappe performing the way he has, and the Bears looking like one of the NFL’s worst teams, why rush it?

Thumbnail photo via Lon Horwedel/USA TODAY Sports Images
New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe
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