The New England Patriots did not leave the Cleveland Browns much of a chance in Week 10, beating the visitors with a final score of 45-7. They were able to accomplish that by playing some sound football in all three phases of the game, and making big plays in critical situations — something the Patriots have not always been able to do earlier in the year.
One area where the team was particularly productive was third down. Whether it was extending drives on offense or getting off the field on defense, New England generally was able to do whatever it wanted.
When all was said and done, the Patriots had gone 7-for-9 as an offense for a success rate of 77.8 percent. The Browns, on the other hand, had a hard time penetrating New England’s defense and finished with just a single conversion — going 1-for-11 — for a third down efficiency of 9.1 percent.
The first three drives of the game were already a sign of things to come.
On the opening series, New England’s defense stopped the Browns on a 3rd-and-2 at the goal line. Cleveland would find the end zone on a successful fourth-down pass, but the Patriots already set the tone for their third downs: the Browns would not have an easy time extending their possessions — something they learned on drive No. 2. Kyle Dugger picked off Baker Mayfield and returned the interception 37 yards to set up a touchdown.
At that point, New England’s offense was already 3-for-3 on third down. The team faced some challenging third downs on its own opening drive, but it converted three times thanks to Mac Jones pass plays: the sticks were moved on a 3rd-and-8 due to a 12-yarder to Hunter Henry; a 3rd-and-6 was converted on a 7-yarder to Jakobi Meyers; a 3rd-and-13 on a 20-yard screen pass to Brandon Bolden.
New England ended up dropping back on eight of its nine third down plays, with Mac Jones going 6-for-7 for 80 yards and a touchdown (as well as one 8-yard sack). His passer rating of 158.3 on third down is the highest achievable, while his 1.405 expected points added per play are nothing short of impressive.
The one third down that did not see the Patriots drop back to pass came in the second quarter, with Rhamondre Stevenson gaining 18 yards on a 3rd-and-1. The play was one of three successful third downs on New England’s 99-yard touchdown drive.
The Browns, on the other hand, had a much tougher time in those situations.
As noted above, the team converted only one third down plus another thanks to a roughing the passer penalty called against Patriots defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. The other third downs, meanwhile, ended somewhere between disappointment and disaster.
Browns quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum combined to drop back 10 times on third down. They went 3-for-8 for 28 yards and an interception; Keenum also was sacked twice. Furthermore, D’Ernest Johnson was stuffed for a 3-yard loss by Ja’Whaun Bentley on another third down.
At the end of the day, third down was therefore a tale of two teams performing on vastly different levels.