Simply put, the Browns shot themselves in the foot early and often in this one. The questionable decision to bench LT Greg Robinson for journeyman OG Justin McCray did not work and they finally freed Genard Avery from the inactive list just to mind bogglingly trade him two days later. Getting back to the game, it seemed like the Browns just flat-out beat themselves in this one. Three turnovers in three offensive snaps is absolutely unacceptable and it makes it even worse that the turnovers put the Browns in a 17-0 hole against the best defense the NFL has seen in years. The talent is clearly there to win around seven games in the second half, especially with how weak their schedule is. However, the coaching has to drastically improve to the point that the Browns stop making the same, stupid mistakes over and over again. One thing is for sure, if the Browns don’t clean it up and win next week in Denver, the season would seemingly be officially lost at that point.
After giving up an 11-yard run on the first play of the game, the Browns defense forced the Patriots to punt from their own 42 all the way down to the Browns 20 yard line. One of the Browns biggest problems this year continued during their first offensive possession. Despite heavy rain making throwing the ball exceedingly difficult and having one of the best running backs in football, Freddie Kitchens decided to dial up three-straight pass plays. The first two were incomplete and the last one was a simple screen to OBJ for seven yards. If the Browns were going to pass the ball, it probably would have been smarter to throw a screen pass like that in the first place to get everyone used to the environmental conditions. Unfortunately, the coaching staff seems like they don’t think sometimes, so the Browns punted away after a quick three-and-out.
The last thing anyone wants to do when playing the Patriots is to let Tom Brady have possession and control the game. After the Browns quick three and out, Brady marched the Patriots on a six-minute, 71-yard scoring drive. The Browns defense almost prevented any score a couple different times. To start the drive, RB Sony Michel had a seven-yard rush and then Olivier Vernon made a fantastic play on a reverse to WR Julian Edelman to force a loss of three. Then Tom Brady worked his magic by throwing a picturesque pass where only his wide receiever, Phillip Dorsett, could haul it in for a 33-yard gain. On the next set of downs, the Browns actually held the Pats to a 4th & 7, but they let Julian Edelman get free for a 10-yard reception to keep their drive alive. A nice run from Michel set up 1st & goal for New England. The Browns stopped Edelman short after a five-yard catch, stuffed Michel for no gain and then CB Denzel Ward dropped an interception in the end zone to make the Patriots settle for a field goal. It’s rare for good teams to make those kind of mistakes, so Ward has to capitalize on it and make that play.
After the Patriots went up 3-0 and the Browns threw a fourth straight pass, RB Nick Chubb fumbled his first carry, which New England’s defense returned for a touchdown. After the extra point, the Pats went up 10-0 with 5:45 left in the first. On the very next play for the Browns offense, Nick Chubb had one of the more incredible runs of his career breaking tackles at will attempting to make up for his rare fumble. Unfortunately, CB Jonathan Jones caught Chubb inside the 20 and was able to punch the ball free for Chubb’s uncharacteristic second fumble of the game, which was again recovered by the Patriots this time at their own four yard line.
The Browns were able to stop the Patriots and force a punt after a nice looking defensive drive highlighted by CB Greedy Williams making the adjustment to break up the pass on the deep ball that beat him over the top earlier in the game. As much as Browns fans were hoping the worst of their turnover issues were over, Baker Mayfield basically pitched the ball right into DL Lawrence Guy’s hands for an interception that marked three turnovers on three snaps. Starting from the Cleveland 11, Tom Brady made quick work for the touchdown on the second play of the drive over the middle to his favorite receiver, Julian Edelman. If it weren’t for the three back to back-to-back turnovers, then it would at worst be a 3-0 game, but instead, it was 17-0 with just under two minutes to play in the first quarter.
Despite the early fumbles, the Browns stuck with Nick Chubb who ran for 16 and 12-yard first downs on the first two plays. The Browns looked like Chubb could carry them down the field, but then a false start and a holding penalty ended the drive and forced the Browns to punt. P Jamie Gillan continued his dominance with another punt inside the 20 to the 13. This time, the defense made quick work of the Pats forcing a three and out ending with a sack by S Eric Murray. After Cleveland muffed the punt and luckily recovered, they began the drive with great field position around midfield. On this drive, Chubb had three carries for 13 yards and Baker went 3-3 with 41 yards ending with a 21-yard touchdown pass to TE Demetrius Harris. K Austin Seibert added the extra point to cut the deficit to 17-7 in the middle of the second quarter.
The Patriots did their best to respond by methodically marching down the field highlighted by Brady finding Edelman for 23 yards, but the farther they got, the better the Browns defense played. At some point the Browns were able to force a 4th & four at the Cleveland 24, but Tom Brady was able to find WR Mohamed Sanu to pick up just enough for the first down. The Browns were eventually able to force the Pats to try for a field goal, which Ward was able to block to keep the score the same. Starting from their own 16, the Browns had a little over two minutes to try and get down the field and cut into the Pats’ lead. After picking up a couple first downs playing relatively conservative considering the time, Baker was sacked for a 10-yard loss, which was then followed up by a false start. At that point, it probably would’ve been wise for the Browns to just take a knee and call it a half, but they decided to take the risk of injury or turnover and throw two more time just to get nine total yards. It definitely wasn’t a good half of football, but the Browns managed to stay in the game for the most part with the Patriots leading 17-7 at the half.
Perhaps the biggest problem this team has had this year is the lack of adjustments they make depending on how the game plan is working. Surprisingly enough though, the Browns were able to start off the half with a great drive. It began with a 21-yard hookup from Baker to WR Jarvis Landry, and then Chubb took over the rest of the way. Chubb had six rushes for 28 yards along with a catch for seen more. Mayfield hit Callaway on a eight-yard pass in the red zone to bring up a 3rd and short opportunity, but Baker was sacked on the play by former Browns LB, Jamie Collins Sr., so they had to settle for a field goal instead. Seibert connected from 38 yards out to cut the Patriots’ lead to 17-10 with just under nine minutes left in the third.
The Browns had a huge opportunity to take all the momentum back as they forced two straight incompletions from Tom Brady to start the drive. Then the Browns let RB James White get loose for a 59-yard catch-and-run all the way to the Cleveland 25. Four plays later, Brady found Edelman once again for a 14-yard score getting the answer they needed to make it 24-10. The Browns, however, could not answer right back, which is admittedly difficult to do against this incredible Patriots defense. Baker threw a perfect back shoulder pass to Odell Beckham Jr. up the right sideline, and he just didn’t adjust to the ball in time to make the easy play. The fact of the matter is that OBJ absolutely must make that catch, especially with the contract he’s under. Since he didn’t make the play, the Browns were forced to punt where Gillan launched a ball 56 yards all the way to the New England 19.
After giving up a first down following two runs for 11 yards by Michel, Olivier Vernon was able to come up with a crucial nine-yard sack to force the Patriots to punt all the way back to the Cleveland 13. The Browns looked like they might get something going again after two runs for eight yards from Chubb followed by a 12-yard completion to Harris. However, the Browns were killed by preventable penalties once again with two false starts in a row. When it looked like the Browns had a chance to actually move the chains after Hilliard had a 14-yard reception, another penalty ended their drive for good. WR Antonio Callaway was flagged for offensive pass interference and the Browns had to punt once again.
Giving the ball back to the Patriots in the fourth quarter is never good because the team always finds way to win whether they are holding onto the lead or finding a way to take it. They marched right down the field starting letting Michel chew the clock as Brady moved the sticks when needed. Brady started the drive 3-3 for 50 yards, so they were able to put up with minimal gains on the ground just to milk the clock. Eventually, the Browns were able to force two-straight incompletions at the Cleveland 11 to force New England to attempt a field goal, which was converted from 29 yards out. With the score at 27-10 with under eight minutes remaining in the game, this one was all but over.
The good news is that WR Rashard Higgins finally played after being held out following his injury for seemingly no reason. Luckily, the Browns didn’t trade him along with Genard Avery since they seem to questionably bench/trade young, productive players. He immediately came in and made a great catch, but he was called for a pretty questionable offensive pass interference that wiped it out. It only got worse after that as they went for it on fourth down following an incompletion and a false start just for Baker to be sacked, but at least the team wasn’t quitting.
Myles Garrett finally got to Tom Brady on the first play of their drive for a seven-yard sack. After that, the Pats decided to just run the ball and take the win. K Mike Nugent missed the 34 yarder, but it didn’t really matter since the game was already out of hand at 27-10 with only four minutes left. The rest of the game was mostly for trying some things out and pride for Cleveland. Baker completed two out of his next three passes for 43 yards one being a 12 yard hookup to Landry and the other a 31-yard gain for Beckham. This was followed up by a nine-yard sack by LB Kyle Van Noy that set the Browns back a bit. Mayfield was able to run for 18 yards and a near first down, but it wasn’t enough as an incompletion and a false start later made Kitchens decide to kick the long field goal. Seibert connected from 47 yards out to make 27-13, which ended up being the final score. Not much else really happened other than Baker taking a sack from Jamie Collins, which is a really bad sign because there’s no reason to even put Baker in that position at that point.
All in all, this was an exceedingly rough game against a very tough Patriots team. While no one really expected a win this week, it would’ve been nice to see them play better and not continue making the same mistakes over and over. This team has proven to be incredibly undisciplined with both turnovers and penalties leading to their downfall because there is definitely enough talent on the team to win games. As much as I hate to say it, next week at Denver is basically a must-win game, and if they do happen to lose that game, I expect that Freddie Kitchens won’t be around for much longer. If the Browns can clean up the same mistakes that have plagued their season so far, they have a golden opportunity to salvage the year and compete for a playoff spot.