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There’s no longer any doubt: the Patriots are among the AFC’s best teams right now.
New England’s (6-4) utter destruction of the Cleveland Browns (5-5) firmly announced their contending status in the conference and puts them in position to potentially seize control of the AFC East with a fateful contest against Buffalo looming.
That’s now four wins in a row for the Patriots, who have thoroughly destroyed teams defensively of late and got more than enough help from Mac Jones (19-of-23, 198 yards, 3 TDs), Rhamondre Stevenson (20 carries, 100 yards, 2 TDs) and the offense.
Here’s how the action went down on Sunday in Foxborough.
3:58 p.m.: Brian Hoyer’s got the ball back after a surrender punt from the Browns, and he’s doing the kneel-down dance. That’ll do it.
The Patriots absolutely wreck Cleveland 45-7, their second straight blowout win at home.
3:51 p.m.: After a scary injury to Brown cornerback Troy Hill, the Patriots are finally able to convert the extra point to make the score 45-7.
Hill, who couldn’t bring down Jakobi Meyers on that touchdown catch and run, was down on the field for a long time and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. He did reportedly move his hands a bit, which is a good sign.
Never want to see that, especially in a game that’s already well in hand.
3:42 p.m.: Jakobi Meyers’s drought is over!
Brian Hoyer finds Meyers for an 11-yard touchdown to finally give Meyers that first scoring grab of the receiver’s career. He had gone 135 catches before getting it, and he clearly wanted it badly.
Meyers shook free of a tackle attempt by cornerback Troy Hill on the short throw into the right flat and then went airborne to get across the goal line.
Basically the entire Patriots sideline came to celebrate with him. What a moment.
Oh yeah, it’s 44-7 Patriots.
3:37 p.m.: Mac Jones’s day is done as Brian Hoyer is in at quarterback for the second straight week to mop things up.
The rookie’s final stat line: 19-for-23, 198 yards and three touchdowns, a career-high. He was superb today.
3:31 p.m.: The Browns can’t even score a touchdown in garbage time as the Patriots stiffen up to keep Cleveland out of the end zone with just over eight minutes left in the game.
A fourth-down throw to Jarvis Landry short of the goal line never got close. The Patriots take over at the 5-yard line.
3:18 p.m.: 38-7 Patriots after Mac Jones’s third touchdown pass and second touchdown throw to scoring machine Hunter Henry on the day. Henry had Browns safety John Johnson dancing at the goal line before running a quick slant for the touchdown.
Rhamondre Stevenson also picked up his first 100-yard game on a 10-yard run late in the drive.
This game has been every bit as one-sided as the score suggests, if not more.
3:12 p.m.: Third quarter in the books, and the Patriots are threatening to score again.
They’re just toying with the Browns at this point, making Malik McDowell jump offsides just before the end of the frame. It’ll be 1st-and-10 from the Cleveland 12-yard line when the fourth quarter starts.
No matter what happens, New England is going to get points on this drive.
Everything they do seems to be working. Another well-timed screen, this one to Kendrick Bourne, picked up a first down and saw Isaiah Wynn annihilate a Browns defender in space.
Trent Brown is back in and looking good. Mac Jones only has three incompletions and is nearing 200 yards passing in a super-efficient effort. Rhamondre Stevenson is killing it. It’s all coming up Patriots right now.
3:08 p.m.: Two straight sacks by the Patriots on third and fourth down turn the ball over on downs there.
Neither backup quarterback Case Keenum nor the Browns’ offensive line had a chance on either play. Matthew Judon and Dont’a Hightower share credit for one, and Kyle Van Noy cleans up Keenum on 4th-and-19.
Start the mercy rule clock.
3:04 p.m.: That might be it for Baker Mayfield on the day as an absolute shot from a hard-charging Matthew Judon leaves him struggling to get off the turf. Backup Case Keenum is now warming up on the sideline.
Mayfield has been battling injuries and had to miss a few games earlier in the season due to a variety of ailments. Hard to know which injury is bothering him after that body blow from Judon. Probably all of them.
3:02 p.m.: The Patriots nearly got out of that drive with a sterling report card, but a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on Deatrich Wise Jr. gives the Browns new life at New England’s 40-yard line.
Wise had just been in on a sack on Baker Mayfield the play before and hit him after the throw on that one.
2:55 p.m.: Touchdown Patriots on another scoring run by Rhamondre Stevenson, and this one feels over. It’s now 31-7 New England.
The masterclass by Josh McDaniels continues. The offense has neutralized the Browns’ pass rush with screens to Brandon Bolden, including one for 17 yards on this drive, and dialing up another end-around to Kendrick Bourne that netted 17 yards.
Mac Jones, meanwhile, continues dealing, dropping another beautiful corner route in the bucket to Hunter Henry.
There’s no longer any doubt: this version of the Patriots is for real.
2:46 p.m.: Since that opening drive, New England has simply crushed the Browns’ run game. Ja’Whaun Bentley flies through a gap on third down and slings D’Ernest Johnson down for a three-yard loss to end the drive.
Cleveland punts once again after just five plays. Once again, however, backup punt return Jakobi Meyers lets the ball bounce inside the 10-yard line, setting up a long field for the offense. Admittedly, this one would’ve been a difficult catch, and the Patriots’ coaching staff has probably instructed him not to take too many chances if he’s in doubt.
New England will start at their own 8-yard line.
2:43 p.m.: The Browns finally get through to Mac Jones on third down as Malik McDowell takes him down for a drive-ending sack.
It’s just the second sack of the day for Cleveland, but it comes at an important time. If the Patriots had scored on this drive, it would’ve made the idea of coming back seem impossible.
Jake Bailey’s punt wasn’t great, but Jo Jo Natson let it bounce all the way to Cleveland’s 14-yard line. Not a great day for punt returners.
2:23 p.m.: Good gracious. Kyle Dugger blasted Anthony Schwartz on that kick return, drilling Schwartz so hard the receiver came up woozy.
Then, Deatrich Wise Jr. strip-sacked Baker Mayfield on first down, though the ball ended up rolling out of bounds. That was enough for the Browns, who went into halftime down 24-7 rather than risk another bad play from the offense.
The Patriots have simply owned Cleveland so far in this game. Mac Jones (13-of-15, 134 yards, 2 TDs) and Rhamondre Stevenson (14 carries for 78 yards, 1 TD) are leading the way offensively while the defense has held Baker Mayfield (6-of-14 passing, 36 yards, TD, INT) and the Browns to just 91 total yards.
2:21 p.m.: Myles Garrett couldn’t get to Mac Jones on that third down, but he does foil the play by batting the attempted screen to Nelson Agholor down at the line of scrimmage.
The Patriots go up 24-7 on Nick Folk’s 38-yard field goal with 14 seconds left in the half. Reminder: they get the ball back to start the third quarter.
2:15 p.m.: An “illegal use of hands penalty” on Myles Garrett by Isaiah Wynn halt the momentum of the drive, wiping out a completion that got the Patriots to the Browns’ 5-yard line and pushing New England out of the red zone.
The offense is still in position to get a field goal here, but a touchdown would be a killer if they can get it.
Josh McDaniels is calling an excellent game to keep the Browns’ pass rush off of Mac Jones, scheming up plays to get the ball out of the rookie’s hands quickly and using variations of similar plays to keep Cleveland guessing.
Also, the use of Kendrick Bourne as a ball-carrier (two carries for 26 yards) has been very effective.
2:09 p.m.: The Browns just can’t get off the field against New England’s offense even when they don’t convert on third down.
Mac Jones’s pass to Kendrick Bourne goes off of Bourne’s hands, but cornerback Greg Newsome gets flagged for pass interference. Newsome got a little handsy as the ball got to Bourne, clearly grabbing onto his jersey.
The Patriots’ drive will resume after the two-minute warning with 2nd-and-11 from their own 44-yard line.
Notable development: Michael Onwenu is in at right tackle for Trent Brown, who’s now icing up his calf on the sideline. It might not mean Brown’s hurt again. He might just be on a pitch count in his first action since Week 1.
2:03 p.m.: It feels like the Patriots could strike a kill-shot early if they can score before the half and then get it back and score to start the second half.
The Browns can’t do anything on offense right now. Kyle Van Noy blew up a third-down screen to D’Ernest Johnson and forced a fumble, which Josh Uche just barely failed to recover. But Cleveland had to punt it back to the Patriots, who get the ball at their own 33-yard line.
2:01 p.m.: Per the CBS broadcast, that last drive was New England’s first 99-yard drive since 2011. Impressive stuff from Mac Jones and this year’s Patriots 10 years later.
1:59 p.m.: It doesn’t get much better than that Mac Jones touchdown throw to Kendrick Bourne.
Jones throws the needle through tight coverage to Bourne, who goes up high to bring it in for the 23-yard score. The play completes an 11-play, 99-yard drive–the Patriots’ best of the year.
The rookie is now 9-for-10 for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Talks of the young passer plateauing may have been exaggerated.
1:55 p.m.: Mac Jones dials it up deep to Jakobi Meyers for 26 yards down to Cleveland’s 28-yard line. What an over-the-shoulder grab by Meyers on a touch throw to beat Greg Newsome.
The Patriots continue dominating on third down, converting on 6-of-6 so far.
1:52 p.m.: Rhamondre Stevenson gets the Patriots from the shadow of their own end zone to their 28-yard line on three consecutive carries–the last one an 18-yarder for a first down.
He’s making the most of his first career NFL start with a combination of vision, speed and pure will. He looked like he would’ve been stopped at the 1-yard line on his first run but fought his way through arm tackles out to the 6-yard line.
1:48 p.m.: The Browns grab a couple of first downs, but the Patriots’ defense sends them to the sidelines after a few long misfires to Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz. The latter nearly ended up as J.J. Jackson’s sixth interception of the year, who had Schwartz locked up tight on that one.
Mayfield is now just 5-of-12 for 43 yards and has struggled to connect with anything longer than five yards down the field.
Another note: the Patriots have gone back to more man coverage against the Browns than they’ve deployed the last two weeks, and they’re not allowing Cleveland’s receivers an inch of separation.
New England gets the ball back on their 1-yard line on the ensuing punt, however.
1:35 p.m.: A huge swing sees the Patriots take a 14-0 lead in the blink of an eye.
Kyle Dugger swipes a throw by Baker Mayfield intended for Donovan Peoples-Jones and returns it 37 yards to the Browns’ 5-yard line, and Rhamondre Stevenson pounds it in on the very next play for a score.
The young safety had the throw blanketed from the jump and showed off some big-time speed on the return.
That’s the kind of complementary football that’s driven the Patriots’ three-game winning streak.
1:31 p.m.: That’ll do it for a quick but fascinating first quarter, which ends with the score tied 7-7.
The Browns will have 2nd-and-7 from their own 32-yard line when we return.
1:30 p.m.: What a resilient drive by the Patriots, who even up the game on a Hunter Henry touchdown toss from Mac Jones. That’s Henry’s sixth of the season on a beautiful corner route from the rookie quarterback.
New England played over a holding penalty and a sack from Myles Garrett in Browns’ territory to keep the chains moving, and the offense got a good opening drive from Mac Jones (6-of-6 passing, 56 yards, TD), Rhamondre Stevenson (six carries for 25 yards) and Brandon Bolden (20-yard catch).
The Patriots went 83 yards on 15 plays there, matching Cleveland’s 11-play, 84-yard opening drive.
This could be a good one, folks.
1:23 p.m.: The Patriots’ offense is driving after overcoming a few tough situations. Mac Jones has converted on 3rd-and-8 and 3rd-and-6 with throws to Hunter Henry and Jakobi Meyers, and the running game overcame a holding penalty to earn another new set of downs.
Rhamondre Stevenson just picked up another first down to put New England’s offense at Cleveland’s 20-yard line.
1:11 p.m.: After a wild red-zone sequence, the Browns punch it in with a 2-yard touchdown to tight end Austin Hooper on 4th-and-goal. It’s now 7-0 Cleveland. Hooper beat Adrian Phillips in the back of the end zone.
The Patriots dodged a bullet on second down as David Njoku half-heartedly caught a ball in the end zone only to have it dislodged by Phillips and just missed a huge takeaway when Devin McCourty couldn’t one-hand an interception on third down. Instead, the Browns punch it in.
The big story on that dive, though, was the Browns’ offensive line pushing the Patriots around for much of that drive. D’Ernest Johnson is already halfway to the century mark on the ground. Harrison Bryant also had a first-down grab on the drive.
1:08 p.m.: D’Ernest Johnson is shredding the Patriots’ defense right now. He’s already up to 58 yards on just four carries after a big 24-yarder and another 19-yarder down to New England’s 2-yard line a moment ago. The Browns’ offensive line is dominating.
1:02 p.m.: The Browns will get the ball first after the Patriots win the toss and defer until the second half.
Let’s do this.
12:33 p.m.: Going by the Patriots’ warm-up groups, Trent Brown is indeed back in the starting lineup at right tackle.
But one key starter is not.
Michael Onwenu was not with the first-team offensive line at all, with Ted Karras in at left guard and Isaiah Wynn still in at left tackle.
That’s a surprising development given how well Onwenu has played. Though something had to give at left guard, it felt like the second-year offensive lineman would at least move back to the starting left guard spot.
Perhaps the Patriots like how Karras has played alongside Wynn better than Onwenu did and could be relying on that against edge rusher Myles Garrett, who typically lines up on the offense’s left side.
Whatever the reason, Onwenu’s potential absence from the starting lineup is interesting. Perhaps he’ll have a special role as an extra offensive lineman in helping contain Garrett, the NFL’s current leader in sacks (14).
12:23 p.m.: You think Mac Jones knows it’s a big game today?
The rookie quarterback is already out trying to get the early crowd fired up at Gillette Stadium ahead of a game that could have big implications for the Patriots, according to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Alex Barth.
FiveThirtyEight’s projection models suggest the Patriots could have a nearly 70 percent chance of making the playoffs if they can beat the Browns. But that playoff probability drops to almost 30 percent if New England loses.
12:15 p.m.: Mac Jones’s old coach isn’t at all surprised at how well the Patriots’ rookie has performed to begin this season.
Alabama coach Nick Saban joined ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown to talk about his championship quarterback as well as his old friend Bill Belichick.
On Jones: “I think it’s a really good fit with Bill because Mac’s got the same kind of mindset. He’s a very intelligent guy. He’s very instinctive. He does a great job of preparing for a game and can go out and execute and do what coaches want him to do. That’s exactly how Bill likes it.”
On spending time with Belichick in Cleveland: “I think the most unbelievable thing that nobody would ever think happened…is Bill and I used to go to concerts all the time. We went to see the Eagles, Joe Walsh, Ringo Starr, Phil Collins. Everyone’s got all these serious moments about coaching games and that type of thing. We had a little bit of fun every now and then too.
But I think the thing I learned most about from Bill is how he defined every expectation of everything in the organization: how you brought players to the team, how you wanted a team to the look on the field, how you define critical factors for what he expected at every position. That’s helped me tremendously because you know what you’re looking for all the time.
11:35 a.m.: The Patriots will officially have Rhamondre Stevenson, Trent Brown and J.J. Taylor in action today after all three stayed off the team’s inactive list.
Stevenson has officially been cleared to play after being in the league’s concussion protocol this week and should see a lot of burn with Damien Harris out. J.J. Taylor could also see a small role in the backfield and could take over for Gunner Olszewski (inactive) on punt returns.
One key absence for New England: tight end Jonnu Smith. The versatile tight end was a late addition to the injury report this week (shoulder). He probably would have played a role carrying the ball with Harris out, so this could be a blow.
On the other hand, Devin Asiasi will be active for the first time this year alongside Hunter Henry. Matt LaCosse (practice squad elevation) will see some burn at tight end as well.
Brown will play for the first time since Week 1 and could take over his old spot at right tackle.
11:23 a.m.: Damien Harris (concussion) and Nick Chubb (COVID-19) won’t suit up for the Patriots and Browns, respectively, this afternoon. That sets up a battle of the backup running backs on Sunday with Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden, and D’Ernest Johnson all in line to get significant workloads for their teams.
Stevenson has rebounded strongly from an unfortunate start to the season and even had his best game of the year last week against the Panthers before bowing out with a head injury. But the rookie reportedly cleared concussion protocol Saturday and is expected to play against the Browns.
The fourth-round pick would likely be the team’s early-down back with Bolden filling in on passing downs.
Johnson, meanwhile, has already had a huge game this season in relief of Chubb and Kareem Hunt (IR), going off for 168 total yards against the Indianapolis Colts.
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