For the Patriots, Sunday’s 45-7 win over the Browns provided an exclamation point on a four-game stretch that was the most dominant run of the football for the franchise since it won eight in a row to start the 2019 season.
Quarterback Mac Jones was 19-for-23 for 198 yards and three touchdowns. The rookie out of Alabama engineered five touchdowns drives against the Browns (Brian Hoyer made a relief appearance midway through the fourth quarter), and is at the helm of an offense that has averaged 37.5 points over the last four games.
The defense has yielded an average of 12.5 points per game in that same stretch, while individuals like Matthew Judon (1/2 sack), Kyle Dugger (interception) and others continue to rise to the occasion time and again. It’s all added up to a four-game win streak, a 6-4 record, and a spot in the thick of the AFC playoff picture.
On Sunday against Cleveland, Jones was lifted by the likes of rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who had the first 100-yard game of his NFL career (and a pair of rushing touchdowns). Kendrick Bourne added four catches for 98 yards and a touchdown, while Hunter Henry caught two touchdown passes.
Jakobi Meyers had four receptions for 49 yards, and registered his first career touchdown pass.
The Browns scored on their first possession, an impressive opening drive where Cleveland running back D’Ernest Johnson powered the Browns with 58 rushing yards on the way to a 7-0 lead.
But that’s where the good times ended for Cleveland. After a touchdown pass for Henry at the end of the first quarter, New England tacked on 17 second-quarter points, with the highlight coming on a 23-yard scoring strike from Jones to Bourne.
After taking a 24-7 halftime lead, Jones and the Patriots piled on throughout the second half. Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield (who ended up 11-for-21 for 73 yards, with one touchdown and one interception) was knocked from the game in the second half, while Stevenson, Henry and Meyers all added touchdowns for New England.
Here’s how the game unfolded.
That’s it — 3:58 p.m.
That’s four straight wins for the Patriots. Next up is Atlanta, on short rest. New England will travel to face the Falcons on Thursday Night Football.
Two-minute warning — 3:56 p.m.
Two minutes left, and New England is up 45-7.
Meyers gets first TD — 3:43 p.m.
Jakobi Meyers just had the first touchdown catch of his career, an 11-yard score with 4:13 left in regulation.
Patriots take over — 3:35 p.m.
The Browns turned the ball over on downs with 8:15 to go in regulation — New England will take over on its own 5-yard line with a 38-7 lead. Brian Hoyer is in the game.
There’s still time left, but at this point -- dating back to the Jets game -- the Patriots have averaged 35.8 points per game over the last three-plus weeks.
Patriots keep rolling — 3:22 p.m.
It’s another score for the Patriots, who are now up 38-7 with 13:33 to go after Hunter Henry’s second touchdown of the day. Another (mostly) crisp drive there for the Patriots. Stevenson has topped 100 rushing yards for the first time in his career.
End of the third — 3:15 p.m.
At the end of three, it’s 31-7, and New England is driving for another score. Jones is 18-for-21 for 195 yards with two touchdowns.
Mayfield out, Pats get ball back — 3:10 p.m.
The Patriots, who have knocked Baker Mayfield out of the game, just came away with back-to-back sacks — the latter on fourth and 19. They’ll get the ball at the Cleveland 47 with 1:32 left in the third quarter and a 31-7 lead. I’m willing to say this one is over. The only question is when we see Brian Hoyer.
Pats push it to 31-7 — 2:59 p.m.
Another very good sequence there for the New England offense, as Jones engineered an eight-play, 92-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown from Stevenson, his second of the afternoon. Everything was clicking there for the Patriots, as Jones connected with a variety of targets (including separate 17-yard passes to Bolden and Bourne) and Stevenson kept rumbling. Simply put, the Patriots are smothering the Browns, putting together extended drives that have kept Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland offense on the sidelines for extended stretches throughout this afternoon. New England is up 31-7 with 5:04 to go in the third quarter — this one is just about over.
Stat check — 2:50 p.m.
Both teams had to punt it away here to start the third quarter, and the Patriots will get the ball back at their own 8-yard line. Jones is 13-for-16 for 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, Baker Mayfield is 8-for-16 for 51 yards and a touchdown. Since Cleveland’s opening drive, D’Ernest Johnson has 10 rushing yards. It’s 24-7 with 10:10 to go in the third quarter.
Good stat — 2:45 p.m.
Great stat that just popped up on the CBS broadcast: “The Patriots have 99 straight wins when leading up 17 or more at halftime.”
Good numbers — 2:41 p.m.
In the last 10 quarters, Patriots’ opponents are a combined 7-for-27 on third down.— Christopher Price (@cpriceglobe) November 14, 2021
Pats in command after two quarters — 2:25 p.m.
Two quarters are in the books in Foxborough, and the Patriots have a 24-7 lead.
•Here are a few quick stats and notes:
Jones: 13-for-15, 134 yards, 2 TDs
Stevenson: 14 carries, 78 yards, 1 TD
Meyers: 3 catches, 38 yards
Bourne: 2 catches, 35 yards, 1 TD
Henry: 2 catches, 15 yards, 1 TD
•Considering the opponent and the fact that he’s without his No. 1 back in Damien Harris, as well as veteran tight end Jonnu Smith, Jones has played his best half of football this season. Absolutely sharp, finding a wide variety of targets and delivering just about everything exactly where it has needed to be. The highlight was his second-quarter laser to Kendrick Bourne, a 23-yard scoring strike that made it 21-7. An impressive two quarters for Jones.
•Stevenson has really answered the bell this afternoon, running hard and taking would-be tacklers with him on several of his carries. He’s been New England’s bets and most consistent offensive presence through the first two quarters. Stevenson’s performance, Jones’ accuracy, and going 6-for-7 on third down are the three reasons why the Patriots have been able to control the tempo of the contest through the first two quarters.
•It’s not just Stevenson — other players who had injury issues over the last few weeks have performed well today. Right tackle Trent Brown is back in the lineup this afternoon for the first time since the opener, and has held up well against (mostly) Jadaveon Clowney.
•In the early going, it was clear that D’Ernest Johnson was going to be a challenge, but after Cleveland’s opening drive (when he accounted for 58 of the Browns 84 yards), he was relatively quiet, with six yards after that sequence. The New England defense has been very good across the board, from its third-down defense (the Browns are 0-for-4 on third down) and ability to force takeaways. (Kyle Dugger’s first-half pick and return set the offense up nicely for its second touchdown of the day.) The defense has executed nicely through the first two quarters.
•One important note about complementary football, as it relates to the rest of this one: one of the advantages of New England building a double-digit lead and controlling the tempo means that the Browns won’t be able to lean on Johnson as much as they probably want to in the second half. Baker Mayfield is going to have to sling it if Cleveland wants to get back into this thing. Bottom line? The odds of a one-dimensional team pulling a comeback are awfully long.
•It was an uneventful stretch for New England’s special teamers. Under the circumstances — no Gunner Olszewski — the return game has done about as well as could be expected. Nick Folk was clean on all his extra-point attempts, as well as his only field goal try, a 38-yarder.
•The Patriots will get the ball to start the second half.
Folk makes it 24-7 — 2:22 p.m.
Nick Folk delivers a 38-yard field goal with 17 seconds left in the firs half to make it 24-7. Very good couple of quarters for New England.
Jones-to-Bourne makes it 21-7 — 2:00 p.m.
Jones fired a laser-beam to Kendrick Bourne right there. Wow. One of his finest throws of the season, and it goes for a 23-yard touchdown pass to give the Patriots a 21-7 lead with 5:40 to go in the first half. A dynamite series for New England, which went 99 yards on 11 plays and took 6:11 off the clock. Jones is now 9-for-10 for 116 yards and a pair of interceptions. Might be one of his best quarter-plus series of throws all season long.
Pats get the ball back — 1:49 p.m.
This is just speculation, so take it for what it’s worth, but it feels like the Patriots defense has a good idea when it comes to the timing of Mayfield’s snap count. That offsides call against Josh Uche was an outlier, but still, the way the New England defensive linemen are sort of rocking back and forth, it looks like they’ve been able to pick up something when it comes to Mayfield’s timing. (Maybe it’s just a bluff?) Regardless, the Patriots are set to get the ball back here after the Cleveland punt. Good answer by the New England defense, and as a result, the Patriots will take possession at their own 1-yard line with 11:51 to go in the first half.
Big defensive play leads to TD — 1:37 p.m.
Kyle Dugger just chased down an errant Baker Mayfield pass, setting the offense up nicely for a five-yard touchdown run from Rhamondre Stevenson. Excellent complementary football there by New England, which flipped the turnover quickly into a score. (The Patriots are now 2-for-2 in the red zone today, for what its worth.) It’s 14-7 New England with 14:43 to go in the first half.
End of one — 1:32 p.m.
The Patriots and Browns are tied at seven after one quarter.
Mac Jones: 6-6, 55 yards, one TD
Stevenson: 6 carries, 25 yards
Bolden: 1 catch, 20 yards
Henry: 2 catches, 15 yards, 1 TD
Pats tie it up — 1:28 p.m.
Great answer on that series for the Patriots, who have tied the game at seven with 26 seconds left in the first quarter on a three-yard touchdown pass to Henry. New England had issues on first and second down in the early going (penalty, sack, negative plays), but the Patriots were 3-for-3 on third-down conversions with connections to Henry, Meyers and Bolden to make it the difference. A 15-yard toss play to Kendrick Bourne really got the drive cranked up — wouldn’t be surprised if we saw New England scheme up more of that sort of non-traditional run stuff moving forward to try and create some quality yardage on the ground.
Two more injury related notes: One, Trent Brown is at right tackle to start the game. Looks OK early, but we’ll keep an eye on him moving forward. (He’s worked a lot against Clowney, at least in the early going.) And two, Stevenson is also the primary back, at least to this point in the game, and he appears to be running very well, despite the fact that he didn’t take a snap in practice all week.
Browns take early lead — 1:13 p.m.
The Browns opened with a no-huddle offense, and had success with some quality yardage on the ground, courtesy of youngster D’Ernest Johnson. (No Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt? No problem.) Cleveland also used some three TE sets to start the game — going to be interesting to see how much that continues over the course of the afternoon. But Johnson was terrific on that opening drive, providing 58 of the 84 yards on that sequence. In the end, it was a Mayfield to Hooper pass on fourth and two that makes it 7-0 with 10:05 left in the first quarter. The Patriots very nearly got a red-zone stop there, but no dice. Johnson will be a handful to deal with all afternoon.
Pats win the toss — 1:02 p.m.
...and defer. Time for football.
Official Price Prediction — 12:50 p.m.
The Patriots are going to win today. It won’t be a blowout like last week, but Mac Jones will get 250 yards of passing against the Cleveland defense, while Rhamondre Stevenson will lead New England in carries. On the other side of the ball, Matt Judon will finish with at least one sack. In the end, the Patriots will end up with a 27-20 win over the Browns.
Protection plan — 12:37 p.m.
According to multiple reports from inside Gillette Stadium, here’s how the New England offensive line has looked in warmups, from left to right: Isaiah Wynn, Ted Karras, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown. I’d imagine that Mike Onwenu is standing by as a possible replacement for either Wynn or Brown. But that’s as complete a group as we’ve seen in a long time.
Good numbers to keep in mind — 12:30 p.m.
This one is important for any number of reasons, but this really hammers it home.
Can Belichick get No. 317 today? — 12:30 p.m.
If the Patriots can beat the Browns this afternoon, it’ll give Bill Belichick career win No. 317 (regular season and postseason), and put him 30 behind all-time wins leader Don Shula. For more on Belichick’s chasedown of Shula, check out Friday’s edition of the Point After newsletter here.
Our team is on the scene — 12:13 p.m.
Will Pats cover at home? — 12:08 p.m.
The Patriots come into this game as somewhere between a one- and a three-point favorite, and even with their depleted depth in the run game, I think New England is going to win this thing. (I voted for a single-digit win for the Patriots, for what it’s worth.) The Browns are going to provide a challenge, and if this game was in Cleveland, I might be inclined to go the other way. But I think New England is going to win and cover this afternoon. The over/under is 45, and even with both teams missing their lead backs today, I still think they go over.
A few more betting notes, according to our pals at Odds Shark:
•New England is 4-2 against the spread in its last 6 games.
•The total has gone over in 4 of New England’s last 5 games.
•New England is 10-2 against the spread in their last 12 games against an opponent in the AFC North.
•The total has gone over in 9 of Cleveland’s last 13 games against an opponent in the AFC.
ªCleveland is 1-7 straight up in its last 8 games against New England.
Some numbers to watch — 11:58 a.m.
•J.C. Jackson had two interceptions last week at Carolina, and looks to become the first Patriots player to record back-to-back games with at least two interceptions since Mike Haynes in 1976.
•Jakobi Meyers completed two passes for 45 yards in Week 4 against Tampa Bay. The Patriots have never had a wide receiver complete more than two passes in a single season.
•Matthew Judon leads the Patriots with nine sacks. His career high is 9.5 sacks in 2019 when he played for Baltimore.
•Bill Belichick has 249 regular season wins with the Patriots and needs one more in 2021 to reach 250. He will join Tom Landry (250), Don Shula (257) and George Halas (318) to become the fourth coach with at least 250 career regular season wins with one team.
No Damien Harris or Gunner Olszewski — 11:45 a.m.
The following Patriots’ players are inactive for today’s game:
RB Damien Harris: Maybe the biggest missing piece today, New England’s leading rusher suffered a concussion last week against the Panthers and did not practice all week. Rhamondre Stevenson would usually be a candidate to get the bulk of the carries in his place, but he also was suffering from a concussion. He’s good to go, but we’ll see how effective he’ll be able to be. (He didn’t take a snap in practice all week.) Maybe some extended work for Brandon Bolden and/or J.J. Taylor?
WR/KR Gunner Olszewski: Another concussion situation. Jakobi Meyers and or Taylor could be candidates to serve as returns today against Cleveland in his place.
TE Jonnu Smith: The veteran was limited this week with a shoulder issue, and will miss this first game of the season as a result. Youngster Devin Asiasi will be active for the first time this season, and could see some snaps in place of Smith. Matt LaCosse’s promotion could mean he’ll also a candidate for some time today. A big week looming for Hunter Henry?
CB Shaun Wade: The cornerback, acquired just before the start of the season, has been dogged by a concussion issue over the last few weeks.
DL Ronnie Perkins: The youngster has battled injuries over the early part of the season, but has taken multiple healthy scratches in recent weeks. If there’s a leading candidate for the rookie redshirt this season, the third-round pick could be that guy.
OL Yasir Durant: The backup offensive lineman wasn’t on the injury report, so it’s reasonable to assume he’s a healthy scratch. From a big picture perspective, it’s a good sign, as it could signal the fact that the starters along the New England offensive line are finally getting healthier. (Trent Brown is active for the first time since the opener.)
QB Jarrett Stidham: Stidham started the season on reserve/PUP, but was activated earlier this week. However, he’ll sit today against the Browns.
Predict the game — 11:31 a.m.
Who to root for Sunday — 11:28 a.m.
Saints (5-3) at Titans (7-2): A New Orleans win — combined with a Patriots’ victory — would bring New England to within a game of the Titans. With a Patriots-Tennessee game looming in a few weeks, this is certainly one to watch.
Bills (5-3) at Jets (2-6): However unlikely it might seem, if New York beats Buffalo and the Patriots can upend the Browns, New England would move to 6-4 and the Bills would be 5-4.
Jaguars (2-6) at Colts (4-5): No immediate rooting interest in this one for New England fans, but an Indy win would get the Colts to .500 and create an even greater logjam at the back end of the AFC playoff race.
Lions (0-8) at Steelers (5-3): If a winless Detroit team can find a way to beat the Steelers, it would provide a boost for a Patriots team looking to get some separation from some of the other AFC playoff contenders.
Vikings (3-5) at Chargers (5-3), Eagles (3-6) and Broncos (5-4): Situation is basically the same for both games — if Minnesota and Philadelphia win and the Patriots knock off the Browns, New England could start to separate itself from a fellow AFC playoff aspirants in Los Angeles and Denver
Chiefs (5-4) at Raiders (5-3): Tough one here — depends on who you think might have more staying power in the AFC playoff chase. My feeling? A Vegas victory could do some real damage to Kansas City’s postseason hopes and continue to throw the AFC West into complete chaos. Go Raiders?
A great day for football — 11:10 a.m.
Great day for football in Foxborough this afternoon, as the forecast calls for temps in the 40s with occasional clouds. Breezy and cool.
Pregame reading list — 11:05 a.m.
The only way to get ready for gameday:
Welcome back — 11 a.m.
Time to get back to football! It’s the Patriots and Browns from Gillette Stadium, with a kickoff time set for 1 p.m. As usual, we’ll have all the action as New England squares off against Cleveland in a battle of 5-4 teams looking to get some separation from the rest of the pack when it comes to the AFC playoff picture. Keep it here for pregame updates -- news from the stadium, betting updates, inactive analysis, a look around the league, and much more. So put on a pot of coffee and settle in for what promises to be a compelling afternoon of football.