Bill Belichick stood one win shy of tying George Halas in the all-time NFL archives with 324. That win arrived Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, where the head coach’s New England Patriots defeated his former Cleveland Browns by a score of 38-15.
Here’s a glance back on the 1 p.m. ET kickoff as the visitors glance forward with a 3-3 record.
Zappe hour continues in second career start
The fifth quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL draft was back under center for the Patriots on Sunday. With starter Mac Jones questionable, veteran Brian Hoyer on injured reserve and standard elevation Garrett Gilbert again up from the practice squad as the lone backup, Bailey Zappe’s hour continued.
The rookie transfer from Houston Baptist and Western Kentucky went 24-of-34 passing for 309 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against Cleveland. He did so after completing 75 percent of his throws through recent matchups with the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.
On the opening drive, Zappe hit wide receiver Kendrick Bourne for 17 yards on third-and-7. DeVante Parker was then hit on third-and-9 for an above-the-rim conversion of 29 yards. And what would have been a scrambling touchdown to tight end Hunter Henry instead became a penalty for illegal touching and a field goal. But Zappe later found another tight end in Jonnu Smith shedding tackles for 53 yards in the third quarter. Pick No. 137 overall soon found another rookie for a touchdown to give New England a 17-6 lead. Back to Henry he went for a 24-6 lead.
Three-time Super Bowl champion rotates in for Wynn at right tackle
Zappe was sacked twice on the afternoon from both edges. Both came courtesy of Browns defensive end Myles Garrett.
The perennial All-Pro began with a strip-sack turnover around right tackle Isaiah Wynn. And Wynn, who previously had a false start while the Patriots set a season high in flags, was replaced by Marcus Cannon on the next series.
The three-time Super Bowl champion had begun the day as an eligible starter at tight end. But Cannon ended it rotating in where he’d resided for much of his New England stay dating back to 2011. To his left aligned offensive linemen Mike Onwenu, David Andrews, Cole Strange and Trent Brown before Wynn resurfaced in the third quarter and he resurfaced in the fourth quarter.
Stevenson’s start spans 91 yards from scrimmage, two touchdowns
New England’s ground leader since 2020 went from limited and questionable to inactive after sustaining a hamstring injury just six offensive snaps in the week prior. And in the absence of Damien Harris came the third start of Rhamondre Stevenson’s NFL tenure.
The sophomore running back by way of the Cerritos Falcons and Oklahoma Sooners had set career highs with 25 carries for 161 yards against Detroit’s defense. Against Cleveland’s, which entered Sunday last in the NFL in rush DVOA, there was some of the same.
Stevenson handled 19 carries for 76 yards and two touchdowns. A 31-yard cutback from split zone would be among them on a third-and-10 that gave the Patriots the advantage before the half. He also caught four passes for an additional 15 yards. The 6-foot, 230-pound blend of quickness and power was joined on the depth chart by fourth-round pick Pierre Strong Jr. and sixth-round pick Kevin Harris. The latter had been promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad on Thursday. Both rookies got their first career carries after halftime.
Familiar face goes 21-of-45 passing for Cleveland
Five past Patriots players can be found in the Browns’ present, including a quarterback who made his sixth start of the campaign on Sunday.
Jacoby Brissett went 21-of-45 passing for 266 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against the organization that selected him in the third round of the 2016 draft. His initial drive was halted by a pick by safety Kyle Dugger, who undercut tight end Pharaoh Brown’s post route. On the subsequent possession, however, fellow tight end David Njoku got the Lenoir-Rhyne product on an out-and-up pickup of 33 yards.
There wasn’t much more to gain from there. New England’s defense swarmed Brissett on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak. He was later picked off by cornerback Jalen Mills under the duress of a seven-man rush. Linebackers Mack Wilson Sr. and Anfernee Jennings hit home for a sack. Defensive linemen Davon Godchaux and Deatrich Wise Jr. got their own, as well, for a unit that hadn’t allowed a touchdown in seven quarters until wideout Amari Cooper struck late.
Patriots hold their ground against the NFL’s rushing leader
Browns running back Nick Chubb entered the matinee atop the NFL with 593 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. The three-time Pro Bowler also entered it with the most runs of 20-plus yards around the league.
“He’s very hard to tackle,” Belichick said during his Wednesday press conference. “He’s got tremendous contact balance and playing strength. He’s got good vision and good patience. He really sets up his blocks well. He gets the most out of every block and then he’s very hard to get on the ground. He plays with good ball security. He gets those explosive plays. He gets a lot of tough yards and consistent yards. He’s really good and he’s got a good group in front of him. They absolutely know what they’re doing.”
So did the opposing front. Chubb had 56 rushing yards through a dozen handoffs against what was often a heavy base defense. He had a long of eight yards at the half while averaging 3.75 yards per.
Barmore departs from New England’s defensive line with knee injury
The Patriots were down an All-Decade selection in Lawrence Guy. Before intermission, the defensive line would be down Christian Barmore, too.
The Alabama product required assistance as he departed to the blue medical tent and then the locker room under his own power. Last year’s No. 38 overall pick had been questionable on the injury report due to a knee issue and was announced as questionable to return for the same reason. Yet he was ruled out during halftime.
That thrust rookie Sam Roberts from Northwest Missouri State into a third-down rushing role. It also thrust ex-Browns nose tackle Carl Davis Jr. further up the depth chart en route to a rumbling fumble return of 17 yards.
Rookies rise on the perimeter in the absence of downgraded veterans
The Patriots downgraded veterans Nelson Agholor and Jonathan Jones to out before traveling to Cleveland. With the wide receiver managing a hamstring injury and the cornerback managing an ankle injury, youth got the call.
Tyquan Thornton totaled four catches for 37 yards, three carries for 16 yards and two combined touchdowns for the wideout room. The second-rounder from Baylor was on the field by the second drive in “11” personnel after making his NFL debut last week. He lost two yards on a reverse. But in the cards was a reception for a dozen yards prior to halftime, a sudden release at the goal line for six points after it, and finally a rush for 19 yards that also ended in the end zone.
Fellow rookie Jack Jones saw extensive time in man coverage on the other side of the ball. The fourth-rounder logged two tackles and a deflection while third-rounder Marcus Jones spelled in at outside corner and furthered his place in the return game. A near-pick on a corner route followed for the Paul Hornung Award winner out of Troy and Houston.
Folk’s inside-the-50 streak snapped
Nick Folk had not missed a field goal from inside 50 yards since the opener of the 2020 regular season against the Miami Dolphins. That record-setting NFL streak snapped on his 65th attempt from that range.
New England’s kicker missed wide right from 45 yards out in the fourth quarter in Cleveland.
The 37-year-old Folk was tied for the league lead in scoring last campaign. Prior to Sunday, he had gone 9-for-10 on field goals and 10-for-10 on extra points this fall. But the Patriots’ special teams ended on a high note as undrafted defensive back Brenden Schooler fell on a muffed punt late the final frame.