Identical records in the AFC playoff picture crossed paths Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Here’s a glance through what went into it as New England climbs to 6-4 and Cleveland falls to 5-5 on the season.
Jones starts 7-of-7, finishes with first career three-touchdown game
Cleveland’s defense entered the afternoon having allowed 17 passing touchdowns on the season. Mac Jones added to that total.
New England’s rookie quarterback went 19-of-23 through the air for 198 yards and his first three-touchdown game. It got underway with a drive that spanned 9:39 of game clock and six consecutive completions for 56 yards and a trip to the end zone. Jones did not have a pass hit the turf until taking a deep shot to wide receiver Nelson Agholor at the 7:45 mark before intermission. He soon took more, finding Jakobi Meyers for a fading 26 yards and fellow wideout Kendrick Bourne for an airborne score from 23 yards out. Those connections capped off a possession that began in safety territory for the Patriots.
Brian Hoyer stepped in under center midway through the final frame. The veteran proceeded to connect with Meyers for the target’s first TD catch on his 135th NFL reception. The catch-and-run made it 45 unanswered points.
Henry stands with seven scores over past seven games
Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith went to the inactives after being listed as limited and questionable due to a shoulder injury. And without the four-year, $50 million March signing, it would be sophomore Devin Asiasi and standard elevation Matt LaCosse rounding out the depth chart behind Hunter Henry.
It marked the first appearance of the season for Asiasi and the first appearance since December 2019 for LaCosse. But the offense kicked off in “21” personnel with Henry.
Henry caught four passes for 37 yards from there, starting with a third-and-8 moving of the chains. He had caught five touchdowns over New England’s previous six games. That trend continued with 31 seconds to go in the initial quarter on a corner route. And again at the goal line in the fourth quarter. Henry’s touchdown tally now stands behind only the eight he registered as a San Diego Chargers rookie.
Mayfield exits 73 yards into second meeting with Patriots
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield’s first meeting with the Patriots took place at Gillette Stadium 749 days before his second. The end result stayed the same.
Revisiting with shoulder and foot injuries, Mayfield completed 11-of-21 passes for 73 yards on Sunday. There would be a touchdown to tight end Austin Hooper versus safety Adrian Phillips on fourth down. But there would also be an interception by safety Kyle Dugger in the second quarter versus tight end David Njoku.
The 2018 No. 1 overall pick headed into the locker room for halftime with 36 yards through the air. Mayfield later exited for the blue medical after a hit by Matt Judon in the third quarter. He was replaced by backup Case Keenum, who was subsequently sacked by the outside linebacker. New England stood with four sacks by game’s end, while Cleveland did not convert a third down until the closing minutes.
A three-man backfield powered by Stevenson
The Patriots downgraded Damien Harris to out on the eve of the Browns encounter. In the absence of the starting running back, who missed three consecutive practices while in the NFL’s concussion protocol, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden and recent inactive J.J. Taylor got the call.
But Stevenson, who was cleared after also sustaining a concussion in Week 9, got the start. The rookie by way of Cerritos College and Oklahoma did so after eclipsing the century mark in scrimmage yards during his last outing. And in his next, Stevenson handled 20 carries for 100 yards and four catches for 14 yards.
Bullying pickups of 13, 16 and 18 yards surfaced in the process. As did a well-sealed touchdown around the left side to give New England the lead early in the second quarter. Stevenson had a career-high 78 ground yards to his name by intermission. A second score followed.
Cleveland’s running game leans on Orlando Apollos alum
Kareem Hunt remained on injured reserve while fellow Browns running backs Nick Chubb, Demetric Felton and John Kelly remained on the Covid-19 reserve list. That left Alliance of American Football alum D’Ernest Johnson in line for his second NFL start.
The former Orlando Apollo’s first featured 22 carries for 146 yards and one touchdown in October on the way to being named FedEx Ground Player of the Week.
Against the Patriots, Johnson amassed 58 yards through four carries on the opening drive, with roads paved by All-Pro guards Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio on a breakaway of 24. But the flow worked against an offense sitting atop the league in rushing. Johnson was halted in the backfield by blitzing linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley to force a punt in the third quarter. He finished with 99 yards over 19 attempts.
New England’s deepened offensive line faces NFL’s sack leader
Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett arrived in Foxborough with an NFL-leading 12 sacks. The Defensive Player of the Year favorite would depart with one more. It hit on New England’s opening possession after an attempted cut block. And it’d be the lone quarterback pressure of the first half before teammate Malik McDowell registered another.
New England started Isaiah Wynn at left tackle, Ted Karras at left guard, David Andrews at center, Shaq Mason at right guard and Trent Brown at right tackle.
Brown, who missed eight games due to a calf strain, had been activated from injured reserve on Saturday. And by Sunday, the Super Bowl LIII champion and Week 1 starter found himself in a rotation with Mike Onwenu. Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded Patriot this fall, Onwenu also reported as an eligible sixth lineman. The 2020 sixth-round pick would close out the game where he’d started the previous four.