The New England Patriots were able to get a big win in Cleveland on Sunday, beating the Browns 38-15 to improve to 3-3 on the year. The game was a bit closer than the final score would appear, but the Patriots were able to take advantage of some late mistakes by their opponent to extend the lead significantly in the fourth quarter.
Either way, it was a good win, and there were lots of positives to come out of it. Let’s get into the takeaways.
1. Zappe Fever continues: With Mac Jones still nursing an ankle injury and Brian Hoyer on injured reserve, Bailey Zappe got his second consecutive start. He also looked very good for the second week in a row. I’ll talk about the decision they are going to need to make in the next few weeks later, but Zappe is doing his part, and helping the Patriots stay afloat in the playoff race; they are back to .500 after two straight wins with him at the helm.
The impressive part for me is the improvement that he has shown since his first snaps in Week 4. He has consistently learned from his mistakes, and gotten better in the areas in which he struggled the past two weeks. That is exactly the type of player the Patriots are looking for, and, at the very least, you now know that you have a solid and affordable backup on your team for years to come.
2. Tyquan Thornton finds the end zone twice: The Patriots surprised a ton of people by trading up in the second round to take the speedster from Baylor, but then he went on to surprise a ton of people by looking good in training camp and in the preseason. In just the second regular season game of his career, he already showed what he can bring to the New England receiving corps.
Not only did he showcase his speed on his jet-sweep touchdown in the fourth quarter, he also was able to get open in tight spaces on his red zone touchdown reception. If the youngster continues to improve, the Patriots may have finally found a really good wide receiver early in the draft.
3. ‘Mondre the Giant’ fully embraces the lead role: Last week, Rhamondre Stevenson carried the Patriots’ rushing attack after Damien Harris had gone down with an injury. Harris was out on Sunday, and the sophomore took over once again.
There wasn’t a ton of room for him out there as the Browns were selling out to stop the run, but his 31-yard touchdown in the first half gave the Patriots a 10-3 lead as well as a little breathing room heading into the half. He did have a red zone drop, but ran extremely hard again, and is proving to be one of the most important offensive players for the Patriots.
4. Kyle Dugger continues to prove himself: Coming into his third season in the NFL, the hope was that Kyle Dugger could make the leap from good to Pro Bowl-level player. He is doing just that this year, and had another great game against the Browns. He had a pick on the first drive of the game, when he had blanket coverage and made a nice play on the ball.
He got beat once down the sideline when it appeared he was attempting to undercut the route, but was solid in coverage again. He also continues to be spectacular in the run game, and making tackles in the open field.
Dugger is making a significant leap this season, and the Patriots will be relying on him to be one of their best players the rest of the way through — and beyond.
5. The Patriots draft class looks impressive: We talked about Tyquan Thornton and Bailey Zappe, but they are not the only rookies showing out. Cole Strange has been solid all year long as the opening day starter at left guard. Both cornerbacks, Marcus and Jack Jones, have taken a step forward and have been asked to play significant roles both on defense and special teams: Jack is becoming one of the Patriots’ better corners, and Marcus has been impressive in the return game while playing more on defense and looking good; he almost had a spectacular interception in this game, and has shown good cover skills.
Obviously, Zappe has stepped up and played well the last few weeks. And then you have the undrafted guys, both DaMarcus Mitchell and Brenden Schooler, who notched his second turnover of the season on Sunday, have contributed on special teams. Combine this year’s class with last year, and then Kyle Dugger and Michael Onwenu from 2020, and the Patriots have really done a nice job rebuilding their young talent after a few down years of drafting.
6. Matthew Judon continues to be a force: Judon has been the Patriots’ best defensive player for the last two years, and one of the best pass rushers in the league this season. On Sunday, however, he did his best to not only get after the passer but stop the run.
The veteran linebacker was a big reason that the Browns were held to their worst rushing performance of the year so far. If Judon can keep playing the way he has over the first six weeks, he is going to be one of the toughest defensive players in the league to stop and somebody who is freeing up others such as Deatrich Wise Jr. to make plays.
7. Injury concerns start to mount: The Patriots have already been dealing with injuries entering the game, with a few starters missing on both sides of the ball. On Sunday, that list continued to grow.
Christian Barmore and Cody Davis both left the game and didn’t return, and Kendrick Bourne left for a bit as well. The Davis injury could be a serious one, as he went down without contact and was ruled out right away. Barmore was a bit different, but he was eventually ruled out as well, so that will be a situation to monitor.
With Mac Jones out this week, and Nelson Agholor, Damien Harris, Lawrence Guy and Jonathan Jones all missing as well, the injuries are starting to pile up. The Patriots have been able to fight through those issues, but they could certainly catch up to them at some point.
8. Let’s give the offensive coaches some credit: The Patriots got a whole lot of grief throughout the offseason with their choice of offensive coaches. Fast forward to Sunday, and what was arguably the best game Matt Patricia has called so far.
The play-calling was on point, and the Patriots kept the Browns defense guessing throughout the day. They also had multiple good plays in the red zone, and scored three easy touchdowns because of great play-calls and designs. The catch by Hunter Henry is an example for that, as is the jet sweep to Tyquan Thornton, and the draw to Rhamondre Stevenson on 3rd-and-10.
It may have taken a few weeks to get going, but the offensive coaching staff is becoming pretty darn good at its job. And given that it is doing all of that while being led by a third-string rookie makes it no less impressive.
9. Bill Belichick moves up the all-time wins list against his former team: The Patriots’ head coach celebrated his 324th win on Sunday in Cleveland, which ties him with the great George Halas for second-most all-time. Getting the tying victory against the team that fired him in 1996, and having a chance to break the tie next week against Halas’ Chicago Bears is pretty neat.
10. A quarterback controversy ahead? There are going to be a lot of questions about the Patriots’ quarterback situation after Bailey Zappe’s performance the last two weeks. That said, I am a believer hat Mac Jones gives them the best chance to win and is the better of the two QBs. Zappe has played well, but I don’t think he has done enough to take Jones’ job from him.
Now, if the sophomore goes back in and plays poorly the next few games, then a conversation can be started. Right now, however, the Patriots have a solid backup quarterback on a rookie deal — a great thing for any NFL team to have. They can hold onto Zappe as insurance, or they could move him in the offseason for a team that thinks he could be the guy for them.
Either way, it’s never a bad thing to have a plethora of talented players, especially at the most important position on the field.