In 20 years with Tom Brady at the helm, the New England Patriots offense set numerous records and helped transform how the game is played today. It accomplished seemingly everything accomplishable, but despite all of its records and accolades there is one thing it never did: the unit never had three touchdown drives of 90-plus yards in the same game.
On Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, and with rookie quarterback Mac Jones and backup Brian Hoyer leading the way, the Patriots offense did just that.
The unit had touchdown drives of 92 and 95 yards, but the king among them was a massive 99-yard rally in the second quarter. New England was up 14-7 when it began its march, and 11 plays and six minutes later managed to increase its lead by seven points.
The Patriots executed some impressive plays along the way, breaking a one-score game against a quality opponent wide open while doing so. They ended up winning with a final score of 45-7.
Let’s go back to that 99-yard touchdown series, however, and find out how the Patriots engineered it.
1-10-NE 1 (11:51) R.Stevenson up the middle to NE 6 for 5 yards (A.Walker).
Following a 58-yard punt by the Browns’ Jamie Gillan and a holding penalty against the Patriots’ Joejuan Williams, Mac Jones and company set up shop at their own 1-yard line. The initial goal of the possession was therefore to create some breathing room from the shadow of the end zone and not risk a turnover — either in the form of an interception or fumble, or in the form of a safety.
In order to accomplish that goal, the Patriots trusted their fourth-round rookie running back: Rhamondre Stevenson was given the football to move the line of scrimmage and give the team more space to work with. He succeeded, thanks in part due to the blocking and due to his hard running.
The Patriots approached the down in an 11-personnel look against the Browns’ one-deep defense with seven players on the line of scrimmage. Speaking strictly in terms of bodies used on the play, New England had one-on-ones across the board. However, backside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (#28) and cornerback Denzel Ward (#21) were left unblocked, which in turn allowed the team to get a numbers advantage at the point of attack.
That point was between the left-side duo of guard Ted Karras (#67) and Isaiah Wynn (#76). The two combo-blocked defensive tackle Jordan Elliott (#96), who not so much opted to penetrate up the field but rather to simply obstruct any forward movement by the Patriots. This passive approach might have worked had Wynn not been able to drive him off the ball to create an opening between himself and Hunter Henry (#85).
The Patriots’ tight end, meanwhile, was blocking Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Garrett (#95) one-on-one. He was able to stand his ground to create a whole just big enough for Stevenson (#38) to fit through.
The rookie running back did not hit it at full speed but instead took a rather patient approach. The decision was a smart one: he allowed the hole to open up front, and accelerated through to get past the line of scrimmage and onto the second level for a gain of 5 yards.
The drive starter was a successful one for New England.
2-5-NE 6 (11:08) (Shotgun) R.Stevenson right guard to NE 10 for 4 yards (A.Walker).
Using the same personnel package that they employed on first down, the Patriots again turned to Stevenson on the second play of the drive. Running a double-pull play to the right side of the formation with Ted Karras and Hunter Henry serving as the lead blockers, New England gained another 4 yards to set up a manageable yet crucial third down situation.
3-1-NE 10 (10:32) R.Stevenson left end to NE 28 for 18 yards (R.Harrison, J.Johnson).
Facing a 3rd-and-1 at their own 10-yard line, the Patriots again went with their 11-personnel package. Among the three wide receivers on the field was former first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry, who would go on to play a crucial role on the play — albeit not as a pass catcher but rather a blocker for Rhamondre Stevenson.
Before Stevenson was given the ball, however, the Patriots ran a fake jet motion run with wide receiver Nelson Agholor (#15) — one that pulled an additional defender, cornerback Troy Hill (#23), from the frontside of the play:
The Patriots executed the play perfectly across the board. From right guard Shaq Mason (#69) and center David Andrews (#60) taking two defenders out of the player on cut blocks, to left guard Ted Karras (#67) inviting Myles Garrett (#95) inside just to seal him off from the perimeter run.
Those blocks allowed the left-side blockers — tackle Isaiah Wynn (#76) and wide receiver N’Keal Harry (#1) — to open up the edge for Stevenson (#38) to get around: Harry took out Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (#28), while Wynn served as the lead blocker down the field.
The blocking was superb, but so was Stevenson’s speed and acceleration which allowed him to get past six defenders and into the secondary. The Browns were unable to stop him until he had already moved the chains significantly: not only did the Patriots earn a new first down they gained 18 yards on the play.
1-10-NE 28 (9:55) (Shotgun) J.Taylor up the middle to NE 30 for 2 yards (Ma.Wilson).
Having earned a new set of downs at their own 28-yard line, the Patriots decided to mix things up a bit. New England went to a 21-group with fullback Jakob Johnson on the field in place of a third wide receiver (N’Keal Harry); the team also inserted second-year running back J.J. Taylor to take over for Rhamondre Stevenson.
New England ran a draw up the middle with Johnson leading the way. However, the Browns were able to shut the run down quickly. The blocking was set up pretty well initially, but Hunter Henry failed to properly mirror off-the-ball linebacker Mack Wilson, who got free to stand up Taylor after a modest 2-yard gain.
2-8-NE 30 (9:15) J.Taylor up the middle to NE 33 for 3 yards (Ma.Wilson).
The Patriots used the same personnel group on 2nd-and-8. Instead of having Mac Jones align in shotgun with Taylor and Johnson flanking him, however, Josh McDaniels called a pretty straight-forward handoff with the fullback aligned in an H-back setting.
The play was initially designed to follow Johnson, but Taylor was forced to reverse course when safety Grant Delpit was able to get through a gap in the blocking: wide receiver Jakobi Meyers was late to get over to take him out of the play, which appeared to be more of a design error than anything. In turn, Taylor had to shoot up the middle behind left tackle Isaiah Wynn and guard Ted Karras.
The play gained 3 yards, primarily because the pile was pushed favorably.
3-5-NE 33 (8:34) (Shotgun) M.Jones pass short right to K.Bourne to NE 45 for 12 yards (T.Hill).
After the two J.J. Taylor runs gained only 5 combined yards, the Patriots were forced to convert another third down to keep the series alive. To do so, they went back to an 11-personnel group — albeit one that looked different from the one employed earlier during the drive.
New England still used Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor at the wide receiver spots and Hunter Henry as the tight end, but it also added Kendrick Bourne to the equation as well as receiving back Brandon Bolden. The group aligned in a 2x2 shotgun formation, with Bolden off-set to quarterback Mac Jones’ left.
Cleveland, meanwhile, countered with a two-deep safety look. However, the Browns eventually moved field safety Grant Delpit (#22) into a robber role in the middle of the field to take away any crossing routes at the sticks. Delpit’s presence impacted the play in that regard, but Mac Jones — attempting his first throw of the drive — was patient in the pocket to deliver a strike to Bourne (#84) on a crosser:
Aligning in the left-side slot, Bourne gained inside leverage against Browns cornerback Troy Hill (#23) but he attacked right into the area guarded by Delpit. The window for Mac Jones to hit him therefore looked differently: instead of delivering the ball right after Bourne’s break, he would wait depending on the safety’s movements.
Delpit initially moved to his left to assist against Hunter Henry (#85), but he quickly reversed course once Jones re-set his feet and started to go through his progressions. This, in turn, gave the quarterback and his receiver a second window to work with.
Targeting Delpit’s outside shoulder, Jones delivered a strike to Bourne for a 12-yard gain and conversion.
The play would not have been possible without the offensive line giving Jones enough time to go through his reads after seeing Delpit drop into the underneath zone. New England won its battles against the Browns’ four-man pass rush: their right-side blockers Trent Brown (#77) and Shaq Mason (#69) stood their ground in one-on-one situations, while the double-team blocks on the left kept Jones’ blindside clean.
1-10-NE 45 (7:51) (Shotgun) M.Jones pass incomplete deep right to N.Agholor.
Following the third down conversion to Kendrick Bourne, the Patriots went to a 12-personnel package with tight end Matt LaCosse joining Hunter Henry and wide receivers Nelson Agholor and N’Keal Harry as well as running back J.J. Taylor also entering the field. The Browns employed a Cover 4 defense against the Patriots’ package, which New England attempted to stress deep.
However, Mac Jones and Agholor failed to connect on a deep post route from the left-side slot. Jones overshot his intended target and the ball fell to the ground incomplete.
2-10-NE 45 (7:45) (Shotgun) J.Taylor up the middle to NE 46 for 1 yard (A.Walker).
On second down, the Patriots returned to the same formation they used on the third down pass to Kendrick Bourne two plays earlier. However, the play was slightly different. For one, the skill position group included N’Keal Harry at the X-receiver spot and J.J. Taylor in the backfield. Josh McDaniels also did not call a pass: Taylor received the ball on a delayed handoff from Mac Jones.
The play was well-designed to target a lighter box, but Taylor ran straight ahead into traffic rather than trying to maybe bounce the play to the outside through the right-side B-gap. Instead, he gave Cleveland a chance to close the door. The defense did just that, and it stopped Taylor after a gain of just 1 yard.
3-9-NE 46 (7:06) (Shotgun) M.Jones pass deep left to J.Meyers to CLV 28 for 26 yards (G.Newsome).
With Taylor’s second-down run virtually going nowhere, the Patriots found themselves in the third third down situation of the drive. Not yet in Nick Folk’s field goal range, but in four-down territory depending on the play, New England brought its standard 11-personnel group back onto the field: Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor at wide receiver, with Hunter Henry as the lone tight end, and Brandon Bolden in the backfield.
The group went against a defense that initially aligned in a one-deep setup, but it would move to a two-deep zone coverage upon the snap: safety Josh Johnson (#43) dropped back to reveal the coverage.
Mac Jones, however, was not fooled by any post-snap motion. He identified his target right away and went deep to Jakobi Meyers (#16) isolated against first-round rookie Greg Newsome II (#20):
With Newsome playing inside leverage against Meyers, Jones knew he had to attack towards the boundary if he wanted to hit his target. Showing plenty of confidence in both himself and his intended wide receiver, the rookie delivered a pin-point pass in a high-stakes situation: Jones dropped a dime over Newsome, with Meyers adjusting well to the throw and hauling it in for a gain of 26 yards.
Obviously, the blocking up front did its job as well, but the play was primarily Mac Jones identifying the coverage, knowing where its weak-spot was, and trusting himself to make an NFL-caliber throw.
1-10-CLV 28 (6:20) (Shotgun) B.Bolden left guard to CLV 23 for 5 yards (I.Odenigbo, J.Johnson).
The Patriots kept their 11-personnel group on the field for the ensuing first down, but instead of attempting another pass used a run with Brandon Bolden. The play was a successful one given the down and distance: the veteran running back, who also received a delayed handoff from Mac Jones, patiently let his blocks develop before attacking through the gap between left tackle Isaiah Wynn and tight end Hunter Henry.
2-5-CLV 23 (5:46) (Shotgun) M.Jones pass deep middle to K.Bourne for 23 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Facing a 2nd-and-5 following the Brandon Bolden run on first down, the Patriots again did not change their personnel. In fact, they used the exact same alignment: a 3x1 set with Mac Jones in the shotgun and Brandon Bolden offset to his right.
The Browns countered with a different defensive look. Instead of going two-deep, they used a one-deep safety alignment — one the Patriots challenged with Kendrick Bourne (#84) running a post route from the left-side slot and Nelson Agholor (#15) running and over route from the X-spot on the right-side perimeter.
This route distribution in combination held deep safety Josh Johnson (#43) in the middle of the field just long enough for a window to develop on the post to Bourne:
The wide receiver himself did a good job at the snap to get through contact and over the top of cornerback Troy Hill (#23). Hill knew he had deep help, but him trailing and Johnson still a bit hesitant to come over — thus potentially freeing up Agholor on the over — created an opening.
That opening was not an easy one for Mac Jones to take advantage of, though. He had to put the ball to where only Bourne could get it, which meant in stride and over the top. The first-year QB placed the ball perfectly, and along the way showed tremendous confidence to deliver a tight-window throw against good but just slightly open coverage.
Of course, the blocking up front again needs to be mentioned as well. Jones took 2.6 seconds from snap to delivery, and he had enough space to maneuver the pocket just enough to position himself well.
Ultimately, the touchdown throw to Bourne was a perfect way to cap off an impressive series in the middle of New England’s most impressive win of the season thus far.