The last two weeks have been entertaining to say the least. After falling to 1-3 after the loss in Green Bay, the Patriots have had two blowout wins against the Lions and the Browns, the second of which came Sunday in Cleveland by the score of 38-15, which was a milestone for head coach Bill Belichick.
The victory was Belichick’s 324th win as a head coach tying him all-time with “Papa Bear,” George Halas, second all-time to Don Shula’s 347, which is still a possibility for the head coach.
Here are some of my game observations.
Zappe Shines in the Dogpound:
It was an interesting game in that both teams had very similar game plans. Both wanted to run the ball and stop the other team from running it, thereby forcing the opponent’s QB to beat them. The Patriots succeeded, whereas the Browns failed. The Cleveland defense was selling out to stop the Patriots’ running game, but Bailey Zappe was once again impressive, completing 24-34 passes for 301 yards (9.1-yard avg), with two TDs and 0 INTs for a 118.4 passer rating.
It wasn’t perfect (and rarely is), but he once again showed some remarkable poise while under pressure, mainly from Myles Garrett. And a tip of the cap to Russ Goldman, who said on our podcast Friday that he expected Zappe and Tyquan Thornton (more to him below) to have good rapport since they worked together a lot in training camp.
How About the Patriots’ Defense? A Very Impressive Performance:
The Patriots faced a very potent running team for the second week in a row. Cleveland was averaging more than 192 yards per game on the ground. They have two excellent backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Patriots held Cleveland to just 70 yards rushing on 18 attempts (3.9-yard average). That’s more than 120 yards under their average.
Chubb had just 56 yards on 12 carries, while Hunt had 12 yards on four carries. For a defense that was struggling to stop the run, the past two weeks has been a very impressive turnaround. They forced the game into Jacoby Brissett’s hands, and they were able to make plenty of plays to frustrate the Browns.
Brissett finished just 21-of-45 passing for 266 yards (5.7-yard avg) with 1 TD and 2 INTs for a 54.5 passer rating. The defense forced four turnovers, two fumbles, and two interceptions, both of which occurred because of pressure from the pass rush. The defense ended up with four sacks, eight QB hits, and two tackles for loss.
Running Game Ran Hot and Cold:
As we mentioned above, the Browns put a premium on stopping the Patriots’ ground attack. And while they were successful for much of the afternoon, they also allowed three rushing touchdowns, two of which were long runs.
Rhamondre Stevenson finished the game with 19 carries for 76 yards and two TDs. His first came on a 3rd and 10 from the Browns’ 31-yard line. Matt Patricia called a draw play to Stevenson, which initially drew a raised eyebrow with the play call. But it worked to a tee. Stevenson broke the outside and ran down the left side to paydirt to put the Patriots up 10-3 right before the half.
Tyquan Thornton scored the second rushing touchdown on a 19-yard Jet Sweep, where he turned the corner and went untouched into the end zone, showcasing his speed. Stevenson finished the scoring on the day with his second score on a six-yard run.
The Patriots had 102 yards rushing on the day before Zappe’s kneel-downs.
Sunday was a terrific showing by the offense. (PHOTO: Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports)
The Offense Overall Had Its Best Day of the Season:
The team had 400 yards of offense and scored five offensive touchdowns, by far the most productive game of the season. After a 10-6 score at the half, the Patriots took the 3rd quarter kickoff and quickly put themselves in scoring range as Zappe hit Jonnu Smith for a 53-yard pass and run down the right sideline.
Then on 3rd and goal from the Cleveland two, Zappe moved in the pocket to buy time and threw a very nice pass in traffic, where only Thornton was able to catch it. The nice catch in the endzone gave the Patriots a 17-6 lead, and one had the feeling that this game was over, although nearly the entire second half was left. There was never really a feeling in this game that Cleveland had a shot.
After the team’s traded punts, Brissett threw his second interception of the game by Jalen Mills, who returned the ball 15 yards to the Cleveland 40. Three plays later, on a 3rd and 1, Zappe hit a wide-open Hunter Henry for a 31-yard touchdown to make it 24-6.
It should be noted that Thornton, in only his second game as a pro, scored two TDs, one receiving and one rushing, and is showing nice chemistry with Zappe. On a day with Nelson Agholor out and Kendrick Bourne leaving via an injury, Thornton stepped up. His role should continue to see an uptick.
Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, as I wrote in the keys, played a big role in the passing game after Cleveland was selling out to stop the run. They combined for six catches for 122 yards and a TD. Each had 61 yards. The Patriots had four players with 60 yards or more receiving. DeVante Parker had four catches for 64, and Jakobi Meyers had 4-60.
The Patriots were 7-14 on third down and 3-5 in the red zone.
Belichick Gives the Team a History Lesson:
After the game, NESN reported that Belichick had the team return to the field before boarding the buses for the trip home. It was a history lesson on the names on Cleveland’s Ring of Honor.
“As many know, our players are very active in social justice and inequality and things like that,” Belichick said. “I told them how important five of those names are. All of them are great players up there and great people up there, so I’m not saying that. But there are five that, to me, really, absolutely stand out on the Mount Rushmore of this conversation.
“Paul Brown for reintegrating the NFL. He came into the NFL through the All-American Conference with Bill Willis and Marion Motley. So those three. Then, of course, Ozzie Newsome being one of the first Black players at Alabama and one of the great ones. Great player, great general manager, great person. Then, of course, the great Jim Brown. He kind of stands above everybody with what he’s done for equality, what he stands for, what he was as a football player, what he is as a man.”
After speaking about the courage of those players and coach, and what it took for them to succeed, he ordered the team bus to stop so that the players could see the statue of Jim Brown.
“It took a lot of courage for Jim Brown to do what he did,” said Belichick. “I told the players I thought they should go out there and just think for a minute about some of the sacrifices that those guys made. Not on the field, not just as players, but as people and what they stood for.”
Other quick observations include:
Unfortunately, Nick Folk’s streak of 64 straight field goals inside of 50 yards was snapped when he missed a 45-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter.
Overall it was a very good game all around for the Patriots, offensively, defensively, and on special teams. Speaking of which, rookie Brenden Schooler recovered a muffed punt and tried to hand the ball to Belichick, who looked thoroughly confused. It was an awkward moment for the rookie, but he had a laugh about it after the game.
And it has to be satisfying for the Patriots scouting department to see their much-maligned rookie class have another good day. Cole Strange, Zappe, Jack Jones, and Thornton all played meaningful snaps. Marcus Jones, Pierre Strong, and Kevin Harris also played some snaps, gaining some valuable experience.
The team returns home to Gillette Stadium next week to take on the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football with the chance to improve to 4-3.
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bailey Zappe Bill Belichick Cleveland Browns David Njoku Devante Parker Hunter Henry Jack Jones Jacoby Brissett Jakobi Meyers Jonnu Smith Kareem Hunt Matthew Judon Myles Garrett New England Patriots Nick Chubb Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rhamondre Stevenson Tyquan Thornton