FOXBOROUGH — Phillip Dorsett wore the look of a kid who had a secret, but desperately wanted to tell the whole world.
Did Bill Belichick get the game ball after securing his 300th career victory in a 27-13 decision over the Browns on Sunday night?
“I can’t say,’’ Dorsett said as his smirk developed into a full-blown smile and his eyes grew wider. “He may have. He may have.’’
Belichick became just the third coach in NFL history to reach the milestone, and it was only fitting that he earned it by leading the franchise he built into the league’s gold standard against the team for whom he cut his head coaching teeth from 1991–95.
Only Don Shula (347) and George Halas (324) have more victories.
“It’s awesome. He’s the best coach to ever do it, and I think in any sport,’’ said Julian Edelman, who caught a pair of touchdown passes from Tom Brady. “I may not know any other place, but I don’t think they get any better in any kind of sport. He’s an absolute beast. You always feel like you have a shot to win a game with him.’’
The postgame presentation by owner Robert Kraft to the coach, complete with a Matthew Slater signature ending, got Mohamed Sanu’s blood pumping.
“Slate gave probably the best postgame speech I ever heard in my life. I was ready to go play another whole game,’’ said the newest Patriot. “And then they were like, ‘He does this after every game’ and I was like, ‘Wow.’ It was incredible.’’
With the win, which was played in a steady and cold drizzle with intermittent downpours, the Patriots ran their record to 8-0. Cleveland, picked by many to be among the AFC elite after their offseason overhaul, fell to 2-5.
The Patriots’ defense was again dominant — and opportunistic with three more turnovers — while the offense struggled for stretches, failing to consistently convert on third downs, and failing to convert two long drives into points because of a blocked field goal attempt and a miss.
“Our offense made plays when we had to, but there’s a lot of things we can work on,’’ said Edelman, who had a game-high eight catches for 78 yards. “We’ll have to work on those in practice and get ready for a very tough Baltimore team.’’
The Patriots went 2 for 2 on fourth down, however, including one play that could be a harbinger for the second half of the season.
Sanu’s first catch as a Patriot was a 4-yard gain that converted a fourth-down attempt and underscored how much trust Brady already has with his newest weapon.
“It means a lot,’’ said Sanu, who heard loud chants of his name — those weren’t boos — when he made the snag. “We built a little bit so far, but we’re nowhere near where we want to be. We talked about that look earlier in the week and we were on the same page.’’
For the second straight game, the Patriots ran out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead. Nobody proclaimed they were seeing ghosts this time around, but there were turnovers as far as the eye could see.
The Browns turned it over on three consecutive snaps — a pair of Nick Chubb fumbles and a Baker Mayfield interception — and the Patriots converted them into 14 points.
After taking a 3-0 lead on Mike Nugent’s line drive 20-yard field goal through the driving rain, the Patriots defense started doing what it’s done all season: Terrorizing opponents.
Chubb was knocked back for a 1-yard loss and in the process had the ball kicked out of his grasp by tumbling left guard Joel Bitonio. Dont’a Hightower corralled the loose piggy and was escorted by a convoy of Boogeymen 26 yards into the end zone.
Chubb appeared poised to atone for his fumble — and score a touchdown — when he blasted through the middle of the defense for a 44-yard gain on the next play.
Jonathan Jones altered those plans.
On a tremendous hustle play that would have made Ben Watson blush, the lightning-quick corner chased down Chubb and tomahawk-chopped the ball out of the running back’s arms inside the New England 5-yard line, where Devin McCourty pounced on it.
“That’s something coach emphasizes is getting the ball out,’’ said Jones. “Applying pressure to the ball, especially today with the rain. That was a key part of it, attacking the ball over and over, and we did a good job of that.’’
The Patriots offense wasn’t able to capitalize, but the Browns continued their generosity on the next snap when Mayfield tossed a shovel pass right into Lawrence Guy’s grill. The burly defensive tackle returned it 5 yards to the Browns 11.
It took just two snaps for Brady to hit Edelman for an 8-yard touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
It was Brady’s 12th TD toss of the season, the most in a season by a quarterback age 42 or older. Warren Moon had held that distinction.
The Browns finally solved the New England defense midway through the second quarter as Chubb (131 yards on 20 carries) continued to churn out yards on the ground. He had back-to-back runs of 16 and 12 yards, which freed up the middle of the field and allowed Mayfield some time to throw.
With Hightower looking a bit out of sorts in deep one-on-one coverage, Mayfield connected with tight end Demetrius Harris on a 21-yard touchdown to trim the deficit to 17-7.
Chubb’s two fumbles really put a damper on his strong first-half performance as the second-year back out of Georgia carried 10 times for 92 yards.
On the other side, it also was an encouraging performance from Sony Michel, as New England’s second-year back out of Georgia had 43 yards on 10 totes. Michel was running hard, showing some shiftiness, and falling forward.
The Patriots had a chance to increase their lead, but a lengthy drive proved fruitless when Nugent’s 29-yard field attempt was blocked.
The Browns got within 17-10 with a 38-yard Austin Seibert field goal on the opening drive of the second half, but never got any closer.
The Patriots answered with Edelman’s second touchdown to cap a drive that featured a 59-yard Brady to James White screen pass on third and 10.
Brady made a nifty side step to escape the pocket before drilling a fastball to Edelman’s strike zone.
“Yeah, I haven’t had quite as many of those, but it was good,’’ said Brady. “Julian found a sweet spot in there and I was able to get it to him.’’
Nugent and Seibert traded fourth-quarter field goals for the final tally.