Twenty-seven thoughts on the Patriots’ 27-13 victory over the Browns …
1. The symmetry of it all was pretty cool. Patriots coach Bill Belichick earned his 300th victory Sunday with a mostly suspense-free win against the Cleveland Browns, the team with which he earned his first coaching win on September 8, 1991. The losing team that day? The Patriots, naturally, who fell to Belichick’s Browns in Week 2 of the ’91 season, 20-0, despite [checks notes] 95 passing yards from Tommy Hodson.
2. That was a generation ago, with so many Belichick-directed good times in Foxborough since. How impressive is 300 wins? Let’s put it this: He’s won 263 games with the Patriots. Every other coach in Patriots history has won 282 games total, playoffs included. The second-winningest coach in franchise history is Mike Holovak, with 52 wins. Also, Belichick has 262 more wins as a Patriot than Rod Rust.
3. As far as the game itself, well, the Patriots’ 20th straight home win looked pretty familiar. Their defense was hellacious, especially in the early going, scoring the first touchdown of the game. The offense had its ups and downs, with Julian Edelman being the only real constant and Brady putting up good but not spectacular numbers (20 of 36, 259 yards, 2 TDs, no interceptions).
4. The most important plays of the game were, obviously, the Browns’ three turnovers on three consecutive snaps – two of which were more or less inexcusable – in the first quarter. I can’t say I’ve ever seen that before, even by the Browns.
5. But otherwise the most important stretch of the game occurred in the third quarter. With the Patriots holding a 17-10 lead and facing a third and 10 at their own 16. Brady hit James White on a short crossing pattern behind the Browns’ heavy rush, and White took it 55 yards to the Cleveland 21.
6. Then, after an incomplete pass to Mohamed Sanu and a short pass to Rex Burkhead, the Patriots faced third and 1 at the Cleveland 16. Huge play, and Browns defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson had a shot to make it one in the Browns’ favor, blasting into the backfield on a handoff to Sony Michel.
7. But Michel shook loose of his grip and picked up 2 yards for the crucial first down. On the next play, Brady found Julian Edelman for his second touchdown, a little breathing room, and a 24-10 lead.
8. By the way, can we start referring to White as “the underutilized James White’’ yet? So much of the responsibility to produce in the Patriots passing offense falls on Edelman, and of course he always delivers. I tend to think of White as the second-most-reliable option when things aren’t going according to plan, but he’s not getting a ton of touches lately. He had just six Sunday, for 75 yards.
9. It was encouraging to see other receivers besides Edelman come through on the Patriots’ drive midway through the fourth quarter. During the series, which culminated with a Mike Nugent field goal for a 27-10 lead, Brady found Sanu for 19 yards, Ben Watson for 26, and also converted a third-and-3 with a 5-yard pass to Jakobi Meyers.
10. It’s not officially a Patriots game at this point until a Patriots defensive player scores a touchdown. So let the record show that it officially became a game at the 5:45 mark of the first quarter, when Nick Chubb had the football kicked from his grip by one of his own linemen. Dont’a Hightower recovered and ran it back 26 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead. To that point, that was one more touchdown than they’ve allowed this season (3).
11. The Patriots collected two more turnovers in the first quarter, and both were plays the Browns won’t soon forget. On the first, Chubb blew through the middle of the Patriots defense – he broke at least four tackles – and appeared headed for the end zone, but speedy Jonathan Jones caught up to him and sucker-punched the ball loose.
12. The Patriots recovered after an especially spirited scrum that included Danny Shelton hopping on the pile and rolling off like he was enjoying a pile of leaves. Meanwhile, Chubb walked off the field looking so distraught that you’d think he was Earnest Byner. (Too soon? Never too soon.)
13. The second was the kind of inexplicable blunder that only the Browns – OK, and maybe the Bengals, and yes, the Dolphins too – seem to do consistently. Mayfield took the snap and pitched the ball right into Lawrence Guy’s breadbasket with 2:31 left in the first quarter. It went as an interception, the Patriots’ 19th of the season, but only because “gift from Baker’’ isn’t a statistical category.
14. Regarding the Patriots’ relative struggles on offense, Tony Romo said at least three times during CBS’s broadcast that Brady and Josh McDaniels will figure it out. The confidence in that is understandable given their history of doing exactly that.
15. But it would be a great help – and it may be a necessary one – for the offensive line to get some reinforcements and Sanu and N’Keal Harry (eligible to return next week) contribute consistently to the passing game. The post-Gronk personnel is not quite what it was last year.
16. I don’t know if you can make a better throw in lousy weather than the one Brady completed to Phillip Dorsett for 33 yards on the Patriots’ second possession. Dropped it right in between the 1 and 3 on the receiver’s jersey a step before he went out of bounds.
17. Bold early play: Brady finding Edelman (who else?) for 10 yards on 4th and 7 from the Cleveland 33. It must have been a relatively easy call to go for it considering having Nugent attempt a 50-yard field goal in those lousy conditions wasn’t a high-percentage option, but the Brady/Edelman execution of the play was exceptional.
18. The Patriots converted on another fourth down in the second quarter, with Brady finding Sanu for exactly the necessary yardage on fourth and 4. Helpful way for Sanu to make his first catch as a Patriot.
19. Meanwhile, in fourth-down misadventures, the Patriots defense punctuated the win by burying Mayfield on fourth and 16 at the Cleveland 14 with 6 minutes and 7 second left. Nothing encapsulates Freddie Kitchens’s haphazard coaching approach than deciding to punt on fourth and 11, watching his offense commit a penalty, then deciding to go for it. I don’t think he’s getting to 300 wins, folks.
20. In what qualified as a surprise at the time, the Browns got on the board midway through the second quarter when Mayfield found Demetrius Harris for a 21-yard TD, cutting the Patriots lead to 17-7. I actually came away from this one fairly impressed with Mayfield. He took a beating – he stayed in the game after appearing to be injured after enduring a Chase Winovich/Adam Butler crunch in the fourth quarter – but played OK after the Browns’ mistake-prone start, finishing 20 of 31 for 194 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
21. The Browns did get their act together to some degree after the early turnover debacles, blocking a Mike Nugent field goal attempt late in the second quarter and trailing just 17-7 at the break. Mayfield was 11 of 14 at the break, and Chubb’s first half wasn’t that far from being memorable for reasons other than the fumbles – he had 92 yards on just 10 carries.
22. But the Patriots kept making plays when they needed to on defense. With the Browns attempting to get something going late in the first half, John Simon and Guy led a swarm on Mayfield that basically thwarted any chance of moving down the field. Simon seems to make a standout play or two a week, and I always forget to mention him in his space, so consider this a nod to his valuable if unheralded contributions.
23. One way – perhaps the only way – in which the weather seemed to affect the Patriots: Ted Karras delivered a couple of low snaps to Brady in the first half.
24. Shaq Mason was out for the Patriots, meaning James Ferentz got the start at right guard. With Karras and Marshall Newhouse also part of a line that is missing three projected starters, it’s no surprise that Brady seemed well-aware of Myles Garrett’s whereabouts every time he dropped back.
25. Garrett, who picked up his 10th sack of the season, is by far the most impressive Brown. He’s absolutely relentless. But Chubb is up there, at least when he holds on to the ball. His upright running style is somewhat reminiscent of Eric Dickerson.
26. Mike Nugent was 2 for 4 on field goals, missing from 34 yards and getting a 29-yarder blocked. Might be worth having a few more kicker auditions this week.
27. We know Odell Beckham Jr. made the trip to Foxborough, but not for anything good he did. He finished with four catches for 21 yards, and his most notable play was either a false start penalty in the fourth quarter or a failure to make a back-shoulder catch on an accurate Mayfield throw in the third quarter. Probably made some sweet one-handed catches in warmups, though.