FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick loves to beat the Jets more than any other NFL team. The Cleveland Browns might be number two on that list.
The original Cleveland Browns were a legendary team, from the days of Otto Graham and Jim Brown to the Dawg Pound and the near misses to AFC titles. Belichick was the Browns coach for their last five years in Cleveland, including a playoff run in 1994 punctuated by a playoff win over Bill Parcells and the Patriots. In 1995, when Art Modell announced he was moving the Browns to Baltimore, the Browns’ season went into the tank and Belichick was made a scapegoat. Ted Marchibroda took over the team as they became the Baltimore Ravens.
Cleveland fans did get football back four years later, but much of their fan base lamented the loss of Belichick as they saw his dynasty in New England take hold and grow. Years later, Belichick still feels the sting of that final year in Cleveland, where he assembled a stable of assistants and future college and NFL head coaches so good that the NFL Network made a show about it, called “Cleveland ‘95”. These guys, among them Nick Saban, Kirk Ferentz, Scott Pioli, Thomas Dimitroff and many others, were called “slappies” and look back on that time spent with Belichick as so important to their coaching careers.
With that as a backdrop, Belichick and the Patriots sent a strong message to both Cleveland and the rest of the NFL. That winning feeling has returned to Foxborough, as the Patriots throttled the Browns 45-7 on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. Mac Jones threw for three touchdowns, Rhamondre Stevenson and Hunter Henry each scored two touchdowns, and in garbage time, Jakobi Meyers finally got his long awaited first ever NFL receiving touchdown.
The Patriots are now 6-4 and are now in the conversation for both the AFC East championship and the conference title as well. The Patriots could very well be 9-1 right now, and thanks to the fact that the AFC is lacking a power team in the conference, your team can rightfully dream of returning to January, and possibly February glory.
The Browns jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, thanks largely to third string running back D’Ernest Johnson. With both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt sidelined, Johnson was touted by head coach Kevin Stefanski as “fully capable of doing what the other guys normally do”. On the first drive, Johnson had four carries for 58 yards on the ground as Cleveland drove from their 16 to the Patriot 2.
The Patriot defense served notice that Cleveland would be in for it as they made the Browns go for it on fourth and goal at the 2, before Baker Mayfield finally hit Austin Hooper for a touchdown.
From that moment on, the Patriots went on a 45-0 run, and completely took over the game, with Jones leading the way and literally every member of both the offense and defense having a good to great game. Stevenson made up for the fact that Damien Harris could not play by rushing for 100 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged five yards per carry, had several good power runs, and looked totally comfortable out there despite missing three games earlier in the season as a healthy scratch following a fumble in the season opener against Miami.
The Patriots punted only once, held the ball for just over 34 minutes, were 7 of 9 on third down, and amazingly had three scoring drives of 90 yards or more including a 99-yard drive in the second quarter. The Patriots finished with 452 total yards, and the Patriots did a great job in containing and handling the pass rush tandem of Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. The Patriots spent much of the game running right at these two defensive behemoths, getting nice end runs and screen passes in their direction.
Defensively, the Patriots held Cleveland to only 217 total yards. Kyle Dugger had a second quarter interception which he nearly took back for a pick-six, but on the next play, Stevenson ran it in from five yards out. Johnson finished with 99 yards rushing and a 5.2 per carry average, but he had 19 of the 20 team rushes and was the only consistent offense Cleveland could muster.
Mayfield was confounded all game long until he left the game with a knee injury in the third quarter. He finished 11 of 21 passing for only 73 yards, one touchdown, one pick and a rating of only 56.3. Case Keenum relieved him and was 8 of 12 for 81 yards and an 85.8 rating. Johnson was also the team leader in receiving, catching seven passes for 58 yards. Nobody else for Cleveland had any profound impact on the game, on either side of the ball.
Jones had his best game as a pro, hitting on 19 of 23 passes for 198 yards, three touchdowns and a 142.1 passer rating. Kendrick Bourne and Brandon Bolden chipped in with six carries for 75 yards to give the Patriots 184 team rushing yards for the game. Bourne had a nice day with end arounds and even a reverse to go along with 98 receiving yards on four catches. Jones is also showing that he can throw the fade pass with the best of them in the NFL, as he continues to hit receivers with lob passes that are absolutely right on the money.
Meyers did finally get his first touchdown pass, but it was a bittersweet moment. On the play, cornerback Troy Hill, who was defending Meyers, suffered a neck injury and the game was delayed as he was carted off on a stretcher, but late reports say that Hill could move all of his extremities. Cleveland could also say that the Patriots were running up the score, but Brian Hoyer threw the pass and the Browns might want to have a little compassion for Meyers, who worked very hard and waited a very long time for that first scoring catch.
It’s a short week for the Patriots, as they head to Atlanta Thursday to play the Falcons. They get to play in the venue where they won their last Super Bowl, playing the team they won their second most recent Super Bowl against. Any 28-3 revenge factor might not be in play at all as few players and staff are still around from that ill-fated Falcon team. As constituted right now, playing the way they are, the Patriots should do fine if they can make the turnaround in the short week.
The Patriots continue to develop and get better, and the results speak for themselves. Two games with Buffalo and a game against Tennessee still await the Patriots down the road. For now, it’s on to Atlanta and then some time off. But that winning feeling is back, no doubt about it.
Posted Under: 2021 Patriots Season