The New England Patriots’ winning streak — one that actually stretches back all the way to last year’s regular season — continues with a 27-13 victory over the visiting Cleveland Browns. Beating the elements and an opponent that looked solid at times, the Patriots improved to 8-0 on the year while still having plenty of areas to work on at the halfway point of the season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the players that stood out during Sunday’s contest.
Winner: DT Lawrence Guy & DT Adam Butler
New England’s top two defensive tackles had a big impact on the outcome of the Patriots’ game against the Browns. While Lawrence Guy registered an interception in the first quarter — the third takeaway in three consecutive plays — that set up a touchdown, Adam Butler terrorized Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield from the interior: the third-year man was involved in three sacks, registering one on his own and sharing two more with other players.
Winner: CB Jonathan Jones
The Patriots’ two other turnovers in that three-play span were a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Dont’a Hightower, and a momentum-changing fumble that ended a potential Browns scoring opportunity when Jonathan Jones knocked the football away and Devin McCourty fell on it. Jones in general had a very good game with his hustle to force a Nick Chubb fumble as his highlight of the day. However, he also looked very good in coverage and showed once again why he should be in the conversation as one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL.
Loser: The run defense
New England did force two takeaways on the ground, but overall had a bad day in the running game. Led by Nick Chubb, Cleveland was able to gain 159 rushing yards on just 22 carries for an average of 7.2 yards per carry. The run defense certainly will need to be addressed by the team over the next few weeks, especially considering that the Patriots already had some issues in this area against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills earlier this year.
Winner: RB Sony Michel
Speaking of running the football, Sony Michel had one of his better games of the season as a ball carrier. While his final stat-line — he finished the game with 21 attempts for 74 yards and a 3.5-yard average per carry — is nothing to write home about, the second-year man did a good job of trying to generate yardage after contact. Furthermore, Michel showed some solid vision to let blocks develop in front of him.
Winner: QB Tom Brady
Statistically speaking, Tom Brady has had better games but he looked very good considering the circumstances: another starting offensive lineman was out — Shaq Mason missed the game because of an ankle injury — while top-three receiver Mohamed Sanu was just getting incorporated into the system. Furthermore, the weather was terrible all game long. Despite all that, Brady made some good decisions and threw some terrific passes that allowed New England to stay on top at all times.
Loser: OT Marshall Newhouse & OT Marcus Cannon
Going against one of the most talented defensive fronts in all of football, New England’s offensive tackles had another inconsistent game — at best. Shaq Mason’s absence may have played a role in Marcus Cannon’s up-and-down performance, but the veteran has had his fair share of issues recently even with the starting right guard in the lineup. The same goes for Marshall Newhouse, who had a hard time against the physicality of Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon.
Winner: CB Stephon Gilmore
Stephon Gilmore’s primary assignment, Odell Beckham Jr, finished the game with five catches for 52 yards — solid numbers but far from his capabilities, which speaks for New England’s number one cornerback. Gilmore, as he did against Washington Redskins receiver Terry McLaurin earlier this season, was willing to give up short gains underneath in order to make sure no deep passes were completed. The plan worked, and Beckham’s impact on the game was ultimately limited.
Loser: The field goal operation
New England was in a position to score 30+ points yet again, but two miscues in the kicking game cost the team a combined six points. First, Browns rusher Denzel Ward was able to get into the backfield to block a 29-yard attempt late in the second quarter; Ward took advantage of a protection breakdown up front. Later, in the fourth quarter, Mike Nugent hooked a 34-yarder wide to the left that would have put the game out of reach for good.
Winner: WR Julian Edelman
Even with Rob Gronkowski and Josh Gordon no longer being parts of the equation, Julian Edelman continues to shine and play at a Pro Bowl-worthy level. The veteran receiver finished the game against Cleveland with eight catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns — the best receiving performance on either side. Edelman, who also converted a 4th and 7 on the Patriots’ first scoring drive of the day, again proved his value as Tom Brady’s number one target and one of the most reliable wide receivers in the entire NFL.