The Browns got the ball to begin the game and scored a touchdown to go up 7-0. After that, New England ripped off 45 unanswered in an ugly and disappointing game for Cleveland that dropped them back to .500 at 5-5. Let’s get to the recap.
The Browns got the ball first and saw a boost from RB D’Ernest Johnson, who ripped off runs of 5, 10, 24, and 19 yards to set up a 1st-and-goal from the 2 yard line. That’s when things got testy — a fullback direct snap on first down to Johnny Stanton went for no gain, TE David Njoku dropped a touchdown pass from QB Baker Mayfield on second down, and then Mayfield was nearly picked off on third down. Kevin Stefanski decided to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the 2, and Mayfield found TE Austin Hooper in the back of the end zone for the score to give Cleveland a 7-0 lead.
On the Patriots’ first possession, the defense had three opportunities to stop New England in 3rd-and-long situations, but QB Mac Jones converted on each of them — two of them with passes beyond the sticks, and the last of which was a 3rd-and-13 screen pass to RB Brandon Bolden in the red zone that set New England up at the 3 yard line. On 2nd-and-goal from the 3, Jones found TE Hunter Henry open in the right corner of the end zone to tie things up at 7-7 to close out the first quarter. The Patriots’ drive took 9:39 of game clock.
The momentum continued to shift to New England to start the second quarter. On a second down pass, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones couldn’t hang on to a throw from Mayfield. Then, on 3rd-and-7, Mayfield made perhaps his worst bad-read interception of the season, throwing an out route to Njoku in double coverage. The pass was picked off by S Kyle Dugger, who returned it 37 yards to the 5 yard line.
On 1st-and-goal from the 5 yard line, RB Rhamondre Stevenson took the pitch from Jones and scored, giving New England a 14-7 lead.
Cleveland picked up a couple of first downs through the air on their next drive, but it stalled after that, and Mayfield was nearly picked off on third down when he tried to hit WR Anthony Schwartz down the left side. P Jamie Gillan punted the ball and the Patriots’ return man let it go. The ball rolled all the way to the 2 yard line for his best punt of the year in terms of field position (and a holding penalty pushed it even further to the 1 yard line).
The field position was quickly negated as Stevenson rushed for gains of 5 and 4 yards, and then picked up 18 yards on the 3rd-and-1 pitch play. Cleveland’s defense continued to fail on third downs, allowing completions on 3rd-and-5 and 3rd-and-9 of 12 and 26 yards. And then on 2nd-and-5 from the 23 yard line, Jones fired a perfect pass in double coverage to WR Kendrick Bourne, who went up high to snag it for the touchdown to give the Patriots a 21-7 lead. After their first drive took 9+ minutes of clock, this one went 99 yards — a demoralizing start for the defense.
Cleveland’s offense had their third straight bad offensive drive. Mayfield threw the ball away on first down, and then a give to Johnson on second down went for 2 yards. On third down, the screen pass went to Johnson, who fumbled it and was fortunate to recover it. Gillan came on to punt, and this time the Patriots would have better field position at the 33 yard line and a chance to double dip with 3:48 left in the first half.
Cleveland allowed their seventh successful third down conversion on the Patriots’ next drive, after CB Greg Newsome was flagged for pass interference. New England kept marching down the field, schematically beating the Browns with such ease that it was painful to watch. The only thing that backed New England up was an illegal hands to the face penalty. Garrett also batted down a third down pass, the first missed conversion for New England on the day. K Nick Folk came on to kick a 38-yard field goal to give the Patriots a 24-7 lead.
Cleveland’s half almost ended even worse, as Mayfield tried to throw a pass but fumbled. Fortunately, the fumble went out of bounds to end the half. New England got the ball to begin the third quarter. As a change of pace, the defense actually forced a third down stop, a three-and-out in fact, after DT Malik McDowell sacked Jones.
The offense took over at the 14 yard line. They were able to manage one first down, but nothing further beyond that, as Johnson’s rushes on 2nd-and-4 and then 3rd-and-2 were stopped, forcing a punt. Gillan boomed another punt, with this was being downed at the 8 yard line, to set up the Patriots’ next possession. It didn’t matter.
New England had their second lengthy drive of the game with ease, a mix of the pass and the run. Cleveland’s defense showed zero ability to stop the same screen and end around plays, and the drive was capped off by a 2-yard run from Stevenson to give the Patriots a 31-7 lead with 5:04 left in the third quarter. It was complete domination, and a terrible feeling is that even if the Browns hypothetically played lights out to end the game, there wouldn’t be enough time to mount a comeback.
Cleveland was putting together an ugly offensive drive, one that somehow crossed midfield, thanks to a questionable roughing the pass penalty on the Patriots. Njoku dropped a wide open pass that would’ve gone for 20+ yards, and then on the next play, Mayfield was hit and injured. He had to exit and QB Case Keenum came in on 3rd-and-10 from the 40 yard line. Keenum was promptly sacked on third and fourth downs, leading to a turnover on downs.
On 3rd-and-goal from the 3 yard line to start the fourth quarter, Jones hit Henry for a touchdown to give the Patriots a 38-7 lead. Think about that — after the Browns opened the game 7-0, did you think New England would rip off 38 unanswered points, with Cleveland not even getting close to the red zone again during that stretch?
Cleveland actually did get into the red zone on their next drive, but a delay of game and then pressure from the Patriots led to another turnover on downs with just over eight minutes to play. Even more salt in the wounds is that QB Brian Hoyer came in to finish the game for the Patriots, and he immediately completed a 26-yard pass that was better than anything Cleveland had thrown all game. After that was a 48-yard completion on a catch-and-run. And then, the drive ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Hoyer to WR Jakobi Meyers, after he broke a tackle. CB Troy Hill was injured on the play and had to be carted off. New England was up 45-7.
If you didn’t know anything about either team, I’d think we just watched the best team in football dominate the worst team in football.
The only saving grace for Cleveland this week in the long-term is that Baltimore lost on Thursday.
- QB Baker Mayfield: 11-of-21 for 73 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
- RB D’Ernest Johnson: 19 carries, 99 yards (5.2 YPC). 7 catches, 58 yards (8 targets).
- WR Donovan Peoples-Jones: 1 catch, 16 yards (5 targets).
- DE Myles Garrett: 1 sack