The New England Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions and entered this home game against the Browns undefeated at 7-0-0. While the Patriots have been consistent all season, the Browns have pretty much paid their tickets and ridden the roller coaster all year.
Could the Browns possibly defeat the best team in the NFL, and on the road? Before kickoff, Vegas said not even remotely possible and gave the Pats a 13-point edge.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would hit the 300th career wins plateau with a victory against the 2-4-0 Browns. One oddity in this contest. Belichick’s first victory as a head coach was with the Browns over the Patriots. Now that he is seeking his 300th victory, the tables have turned.
While the New England offense has been outstanding all year and is the fifth best offensive attack in the league, the Browns have a very good defense, but the offense is turnover and penalty prone. Can Cleveland even finish drives? The Browns needed to run the ball and dominant the line of scrimmage.
The end result on a cold, windy, rainy day was a 27-13 Patriots victory in which New England scored 14 points off turnovers. The Browns were their worst enemy with 13 penalties, three turnovers, going for a fourth-and-16 deep in your own end of the field and other assorted mishaps.
The Browns will never beat the good teams with the litany of mistakes they are committing. It’s just not possible.
Defensive end Olivier Vernon – A very solid effort by Vernon including a sack. He had constant pressure on quarterback Tom Brady and was also involved in stopping the run game. He finished with six tackles of which two were for loss.
Defensive end Myles Garrett – Garrett had a firm outing including his 10th sack of the year. His constant presence in the backfield was part of a good pass rush for the Browns. He had three tackles for loss and pushed back Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon most of the game. If he was not involved in Brady’s face, he was usually the cause of someone else getting the glory.
Left tackle Justin McCray – Not great, but overall a solid game. He had to contend with defensive end John Simon who is an excellent pass rusher. Simon had just two tackles, both on run plays, plus he had zero sacks, a single quarterback pressure and zero tackles for loss. On several runs around left end McCray’s man was pushed aside repeatedly out of the play. He had a critical false start, but did a nice job especially in pass protection.
Strong safety Morgan Burnett – The 10-year safety assumed the veteran leadership role and was everywhere in the run game. He finished with eight tackles and only three passes were completed in his center of the defensive backfield. However, he didn’t see receiver Julian Edelman until late who scored the touchdown in the third quarter; but in fairness, Edelman had run a five-yard hitch and when Brady had to escape the pocket, Edelman twisted free into a small open section.
Running back Nick Chubb – 20 carries for 131 yards. He is a workhorse every game and this was no different. Had 92 yards in the first half alone and would pop off six and seven yard bursts often. He was an important part of the pass protection as well.
Mistakes – Had to call a timeout because there were only 10 men on the field. Offensive lineman kicks the ball out of the quarterback’s hand. First run from scrimmage resulted in a 44-yard run with a fumble and loss of possession at the Patriots’ four-yard line. Shuffle pass with McCray pulling and his man comes clean with a Joel Bitonio whiff and the defender is right in the area and ends up with the ball. Mr. Dependable Joe Schobert misses a tackle on the three which results in a touchdown. Dontrell Hilliard muffs a punt. New England needing four yards on fourth down and defensive backs are playing off 10 yards. This was just the first half.
Third down Defense – This was killer. Third-and-six netted a 33-yard passing gain with a field goal at drive’s end. Third-and-six again becomes a 15-yard completion. Third-and-four for four yards. Third-and-10 gets 59-yards on a screen. Later in the same drive the Patriots were faced with a third-and-one and rushed for two yards. The very next play was a touchdown. A key third-and-three with a five-yard run kept a drive alive and ended with another field goal.
Running back Nick Chubb – On Chubb’s long run that resulted in the fumble in the first quarter, did you see the critical mistake Chubb made? Patriots’ safety Jonathan Jones took his fist and punched the ball out instead of trying to tackle Chubb, to which the ball came loose. But did you see Chubb’s key mistake? Every time Chubb gets a handoff, he cradles it in his right arm. If the play darts to the leftside, he switches hands which is standard amongst running backs. That way if a fumble occurs it is closer to the sidelines instead of the middle of the field, and also the ball is furthest away from the defender.
With this right sweep, Chubb hit the hole made by guard Eric Kush and center J.C. Tretter as well as receiver Rashard Higgins. Odell Beckham, Jr. had moved to the center and sealed off linebacker Dont’a Hightower when Chubb reached the second level and turned more to the center of the field. He shook off a tackle by safety Devin McCourty and crossed both sets of hashmarks before hitting that other gear he has and was off towards the leftside of the field. He was almost on top of the field marker “20” when Jones caught up with him from the center of the field - the only man left to beat. Chubb is still holding the ball in his right hand which is to Jones’ side, who then simply punches the gift ball to which the Patriots recovered at the four.
If Chubb had switched hands once he headed to his left, this would have been an attempted tackle inside New England’s 10. At that point, the score was just 10-0 so a field goal or possible touchdown was imminent. The other fumble of Chubb was just a freak accident when Bitonio fell onto his block and inadvertently kicked the ball out of the running back’s hands. But two lost fumbles is not a good game for anyone.
Penalties – Is this category just a mainstay each week? Six false starts, two offensive pass inference calls, three hands-to-the-face, illegal shifts. The list just goes on. 13 total accepted and two not accepted penalties for 85 yards. Several were at critical junctures such as Jarvis Landry’s first down catch which became offensive pass interference when the Browns were faced with a third-and-two with just over 13 minutes to go in the game and down 17. First-and-10s became first-and-15 or third-and-four was suddenly third-and-nine. How does this stop?
Coaching – Word from the sideline is that the Browns had decided to go for it facing a fourth-and-11 at their own 24-yard line yet took a deliberate five-yard penalty so that they could have more time to decide which play to use with all their time outs extinguished. Come again? Fourth-and-16 is somehow more advantageous than fourth-and-11. Right? All night long, few passes thrown over 25-yards until the fourth quarter. Huh? 10 men on the field causing use of a time out. Really? A challenge flag on a spotted first down that even the television crew said was a first down and cost a valuable timeout plus spent all future challenges which was needed later. What? Allowing 10-yard cushions on short passing downs. Pardon? Chubb runs for 92 yards in the first half and then became mainly a pass protection blocker in the second half. Excuse me?
Milk Bones - take the good with the bad
Corner back Denzel Ward – The injured cornerback had a good game in his first game back. He blocked a field goal attempt just before the two-minute warning in the first half that would have put New England up 20-7. He missed a good opportunity for an interception in the end zone with a slick football on the Patriots second drive that ended up with a field goal. He finished with five tackles. Brady did not throw his way much all game.
Pass Rush – Sheldon Richardson had his moments and caused the pocket to collapse several times, but was not part of the run defense much as he was pushed to the side often and in fact missed several tackles. Devaroe Lawrence was very good in substitute situations giving rest to other players, and then had a costly hands-to-the-face penalty when the Browns defense had stopped New England. Larry Ojunjobi had constant push and clogged up the middle.
Cornerback Greedy Williams – Another injured player that the Browns missed sorely. He tended to play off his man farther back on short passing downs which resulted in a few first downs, but played the run well all game and finished with five tackles. The third-and-six pass from Brady to Phillip Dorsett was over Williams and resulted in a 33-yard gain that kept the Pats drive alive which ended in the game’s first points on Mike Nugent’s 20-yard field goal.
Offensive line Effort – There were good things and sore spots against the Patriots. Kush played much better especially in pass protection. Bitonio and Tretter are both steady and created good holes for Chubb especially in the first half. With mostly pass protection in the second half, defenders quit thinking about the run and were more of a problem especially in the fourth stanza. Hubbard had some good blocks, but could not handle Danny Shelton off the edge which would create a shorter timespan for the pocket to remain.