CLEVELAND — Mac Jones made the trip to Northeast Ohio. He was on the field pregame at FirstEnergy Stadium. But he’s not quite ready to return to the New England Patriots’ lineup.
Jones officially is inactive for Sunday’s Patriots-Browns matchup, missing his third consecutive game as he continues to recover from a high ankle sprain. Fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe will make his second straight start, with elevated practice squadder Garrett Gilbert backing him up.
Jones made a brief appearance during pregame warmups but did not go through his usual stretching routine. He walked a lap around the end zone, played catch with Zappe and chatted with teammates before retreating to the locker room. Jones wore cleats but did not have his injured ankle taped.
That was more than Jones did before last week’s game, more evidence that he is making progress in his recovery. But Zappe will be the one behind center for at least one more week.
The Patriots also will be without starting running back Damien Harris, who is inactive due to a hamstring injury. Rhamondre Stevenson carried the ball 25 times for 161 yards in last week’s win over the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium, and with only unproven rookies Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris behind him on the depth chart, he can expect another heavy workload against the Browns’ leaky run defense.
Cleveland ranks last in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ rush defense DVOA and allowed 200-plus rushing yards in each of the last two games.
Speaking of run defense, Patriots defensive tackle Lawrence Guy will miss his third straight game with a shoulder injury. Guy, an every-week starter since he arrived in New England in 2017, would have helped the Patriots’ effort to slow down NFL rushing leader Nick Chubb. Head coach Bill Belichick this week called the Patriots’ run D “inconsistent,” and it’ll face one of its toughest tests of the season Sunday.
The Patriots already had ruled out linebacker Josh Uche, cornerback Jonathan Jones and wide receiver Nelson Agholor with injuries. Safety Joshuah Bledsoe, a healthy scratch, rounds out their inactive list.
Tight end Jonnu Smith is active after missing last week’s game with an ankle injury.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. ET.