Friday, May 27, 2022

Patriots’ blowout win vs. Browns shows the rest of the NFL they are legit contenders in the AFC

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Don’t look now, but the New England Patriots are arguably the hottest team in the NFL. In Week 10, Bill Belichick’s club ran the Cleveland Browns out of the Gillette Stadium to the tune of a 45-7 victory, giving New England its fourth consecutive win to move to 6-4 on the season. Not only does this latest win extend the Patriots streak, but it’s also further stamping this club as a legit contender in the AFC that’s worth serious attention as we continue to look at the ever-evolving playoff picture.

Entering Sunday, the Patriots’ three-game winning streak included blowout wins against the New York Jets (Week 7) and Carolina Panthers (Week 9). Even with an impressive road win over the L.A. Chargers sandwiched between those games, it was hard to decipher whether or not New England was truly turning a corner after starting the year 2-4, or if they were simply taking advantage of inferior competition. This win over the Browns not only further validates the streak, but points to Belichick unlocking something with his club. 

No matter what the Patriots wanted to do offensively, they were able to get it done. Cleveland came into Week 10 as the No. 12 overall defense in the NFL in DVOA and boasts an elite pass-rush headlined by Myles Garrett. They are also the No. 5 ranked defense against the run in DVOA. That didn’t seem to matter much for the Patriots, who dropped 45 points (six total touchdowns), kept Mac Jones in a clean pocket for the bulk of the game, and rushed for 184 yards on 5.4 yards per carry. 

No matter where they were on the field, New England was able to move the ball with ease. The most impressive moment in the game — and a possible flash of what this team is capable of — came in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Mac Jones had the ball at his own 1-yard line and orchestrated a 99-yard touchdown drive that concluded with arguably his best throw of the season — a 23-yard touchdown to Kendrick Bourne over the middle of the field. Jones went 3 of 4 on that drive for 61 yards and that score. 

That was New England’s first of three touchdown drives that traveled over 90 yards. 

“I thought the team really played well today,” said Belichick. “There were so many outstanding plays and players and the preparation we had this week, really you can put everybody and talk about just about everybody in there. Long touchdown drives. You know, turnovers, competitive plays in the kicking game. Just kind of big plays after big plays from so many different people. So just really proud of the way the team prepared.”

Defensively, the resilience of this unit was on full display early. After Cleveland put together an opening touchdown drive to go up 7-0, the Patriots slammed the door, shutting them out the rest of the way as the offense scored 45 straight. They also held Baker Mayfield to just 36 yards passing in the first half (a new career-low) and were getting off the field in critical moments, allowing the Browns to convert just one of their 11 third-down opportunities on the day. 

“We know what we have in the locker room,” said linebacker Matthew Judon when asked about the streak. “We knew the type of players we have. We knew that we had to execute a little bit better and hone in on the small details. Kobi [Jakobi Meyers] said we had to be better practice players to be better in games. I think that’s what we did, and we started executing in practice and it started showing up in games. We got a win and it kept rolling. We have to focus on practice which leads to the game.”

Over this four-game stretch, the Patriots are outscoring their opponents, 150-50. During a year where no elite team in the AFC has revealed itself to this point, New England should be right in the thick of the conversation as contenders in the conference. If they can continue to ride this momentum, they’ll not only be a threat to reach the playoffs but could be one of the more feared teams in the tournament. 

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