Analysis

3 takeaways as Patriots punch out Browns, assert themselves in AFC

The Patriots keep proving they're for real, and this latest demolition of the Cleveland Browns is only raising expectations.

Patriots Mac Jones Kendrick Bourne
Patriots' receiver Kendrick Bourne (left) flexes his muscles after he and quarterback Mac Jones (right) hooked up on a second quarter touchdown pass against the Browns. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Recent Links

This has just become a weekly thing, hasn’t it, the Patriots taking some poor, unsuspecting team to school for 60 minutes on their march to the AFC playoffs?

That’s now four straight overpowering wins for New England after the squad pulverized Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett and the Cleveland Browns 45-7 at home in Week 10.

At this point, it’s fair to wonder who in the AFC — perhaps even the NFL period — is playing better football than the Patriots, who were an uninspiring 2-4 after a home loss to the Cowboys just four weeks ago.

As with the last couple of weeks, the defense deserves a ton of credit for crippling an opposing offense. But, also like in the other games on this four-game win streak, the Patriots looked as good as they did because they’re playing team football better than they’ve played it all season long.

Josh McDaniels called his best game of the season.

Scheming up a game plan for an aggressive Browns defense led by Myles Garrett is no small feat. That’s why the Patriots’ offensive performance looks even more impressive, and it starts with McDaniels.

Advertisement:

The Patriots’ offensive coordinator kept Garrett away from Jones (for the most part) by chipping him repeatedly, giving extra help to Isaiah Wynn whenever possible and screening the dynamic edge rusher to allow him to run himself out of the play. Even New England’s deeper throws didn’t stay in Jones’s hands too long, minimizing Garrett’s opportunities to create havoc.

With Damien Harris out, McDaniels also took some burden off of Rhamondre Stevenson (20 carries for 100 yards, 2 TDs) by giving Kendrick Bourne carries on end-arounds. Bourne looked like a natural, finishing with 43 yards on three carries to go with his 98 receiving yards.

New England only allowed two hits on Mac Jones (the two sacks), went 7-of-9 on third downs and racked up 452 yards of total offense.

Bill Belichick praised McDaniels’s coaching acumen this week, and McDaniels showed exactly why he deserves that recognition.

Mac Jones roars back.

The development of rookie quarterbacks is rarely a linear process. You go through good patches and bad ones.

The past two weeks had seen Jones look more like a rookie than he had all season, including a season-low 139 yards passing in an uneven effort against the Panthers in his last game.

Advertisement:

Though his yardage totals against Cleveland won’t blow the doors off either, don’t be fooled. This was an excellent game for the kid.

He threw just four incompletions and hit receivers all over the field, showing off great touch on deep balls to Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry. He never put the ball into harm’s way and was excellent on third downs.

His coverage-splitting touchdown throw to Kendrick Bourne might be among the five most impressive throws he’s made all season.

Jones made all the right decisions and even through in some special plays to boot. It doesn’t get much better than that.

This version of Jones could be a problem come playoff time.

Different defense, same dominance.

On first glance, the Patriots seemed to revert back to their old man-coverage-heavy ways against the Browns after two weeks of playing tons of zone against the Panthers and Chargers. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t trick Cleveland with some post-snap rotations here and there.

The style of defense didn’t matter as far as the results of the game went.

New England held the Browns to an anemic 118 yards through the air in total and just 217 yards all told. Cleveland was just 1-for-11 on third down, and Mayfield managed just 73 passing yards on 11 completions before leaving the game with an injury.

Advertisement:

After the Browns easily scored on the first drive, the Patriots basically said “playtime’s over” and meant it.

Kyle Dugger’s pick on Mayfield’s pass for Donovan Peoples-Jones was a thing of beauty, swooping down from his safety spot and nearly taking the ball back to the house. The play set up Stevenson’s first touchdown of the day to make it 14-0.

J.C. Jackson almost had another after setting in front of a pass intended for Anthony Schwartz.

The defense hit Cleveland quarterbacks 10 times, including three from Matthew Judon (0.5 sacks) and Deatrich Wise Jr. (1.5 sacks). Even Lawrence Guy, who’s more of a presence on running downs, got in on the fun (0.5 sacks) as did Kyle Van Noy (sack).

The secondary got their hands on five passes (two by Jackson), including the pick by Dugger.

Right now, there aren’t many, if any, defenses playing better football than the Patriots.

Quick hits

  • Rhamondre Stevenson looked as good in his first NFL start as you could want, posting his first 100-yard game right off the bat. He ran hard, tearing through arm tackles with the Patriots on their 1-yard line to give them breathing room, and showed off speed and elusiveness at other points. His lone blemish: a dropped pass near the goal line. Other than that, what more could you want from the fourth-round rookie?
  • Jones and Henry’s connection in the red zone is insane right now. Henry now has seven touchdown grabs, which leads the NFL as of the ending of Sunday’s game. The two hooked up on a beautiful corner route for the first one, and Henry shook down safety John Johnson for a quick slant score on the second. Henry is certainly asserting himself as the lead dog in that tight end room with Jonnu Smith out and inconsistent when he’s in.
  • Jakobi Meyers will still lead the team in receptions by a wide margin after Sunday’s game, but the Patriots will have a new yardage leader when the dust settles. Bourne’s 98 receiving yards will give him more than enough to make up the 12-yard gap between him and Meyers coming into the weekend. Bourne has had some ups and downs this season, but his rapport with Jones, especially on down-the field throws, continues to grow. He’s starting to earn his paycheck more consistently.
  • IT FINALLY HAPPENED.
Jump To Comments

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com