7 takeaways from the Patriots’ most impressive win of the season, a rout of the Browns

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New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones had the best game of his career while his team’s defense feasted on Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. New England won, 45-7, in Week 10 at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots have been a part of some seriously one-sided affairs in recent weeks, but this was their most dominant victory of the year. The Patriots were playing their best football since early 2019 when you-know-who was the team’s quarterback. Bill Belichick is back, with one of the league’s best defenses. And Jones is on an upward trajectory, with the quarterback hitting throws on every level of the field — a great sign for New England after a less-than-stellar Week 9.

Here are our seven takeaways from the win.

Mac Jones was better than we'd ever seen him

The Patriots were committed to establishing the run, which proved beneficial against the Browns’ impressive front. Because once New England proved it could run against Cleveland, the offense turned to the passing attack to keep the Browns defense off balance. Jones instantly started to shine. He didn’t miss a throw until his eighth pass of the game.

He finished three drives with the following stat line: 9 of 10, 134 yards and two touchdowns. All three of those drives went for touchdowns. New England built an early lead against a Browns team that isn’t exactly built to overcome a deficit. That spoke to the excellent work from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Jones executed some of his most impressive passes as a pro, with a touch pass to Jakobi Meyers and a powerful and accurate rip to Kendrick Bourne.

He completed these passes on the same drive. Then, later in the game, he zipped a ball in for tight end Hunter Henry, a completion that was equal-parts impressive from both parties involved. Jones put the ball in a perfect spot to prevent the defensive back from making a play. Henry made a remarkable grab on the ball, which had plenty of velocity.

Jones finished the game completing 19 of 23 for 198 yards and three touchdowns. He took two sacks and had no turnovers.

RB Rhamondre Stevenson made excellent use of his blocking -- and even made space when there was none

On the Patriots’ third touchdown drive, they started on the 1-yard line and in clear danger of suffering a safety, which is the kind of play that could have gotten the Browns back into the game with some momentum. But New England kept a level head, called a running play up the middle with Stevenson and executed. The offensive line created a yard or two for him, but he then ran with some anger and rumbled his way through traffic for about six yards. It might have been his most under-the-radar big play of the game.

He finished with 20 carries for 100 yards and two touchdowns. He added four catches for 14 yards. It was a big day for him, as the team worked without their top back, Damien Harris.

The Patriots defense was dying to get Baker Mayfield throwing against them

It was clear the Patriots were prepared for a battle in the trenches, with New England trying to overpower Cleveland at the line of scrimmage. And it didn’t look good early, with the Browns charging downfield on an easy touchdown drive during their opening drive. But that was their only moment of clarity or coherence on offense. The Browns tried to make more use of Mayfield, especially as the Patriots’ lead got bigger. That didn’t work out well for the Browns, who saw Mayfield throw an interception which Kyle Dugger returned to the 5-yard line. The Patriots also logged five sacks and nine quarterback hits.

It was just a bad day to be Mayfield (and Case Keenum, who replaced Mayfield after a knee injury). The Patriots front-seven teed off on him and the secondary was well-prepared to puzzle him.

Baker Mayfield didn't get the memo about J.C. Jackson

One of Mayfield’s silliest endeavors was his early efforts to go after J.C. Jackson, who spent time hopping between receivers but spent most of his time on receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. Mayfield targeted Jackson a few times in the first half, once on a deep fade route down the sideline and one on a flag route. Jackson dropped an interception opportunity.

Would it have helped to have Stephon Gilmore in this secondary? Yes, of course. Has been Jackson been a shutdown corner? Yes, of course.

Kyle Dugger has had his issues in coverage, but Steve Belichick called up a defense that perplexed Mayfield for an INT

If Dugger hadn’t logged the interception, it’s easy to image Jackson would have. Mayfield lofted the ball to where only … the Patriots could catch it. The Browns QB’s attempt was nowhere near either of his receivers. It was simply an excellent call, with the Patriots looking like they were going to be in man coverage before the snap only to switch into a zone after the snap. Mayfield didn’t know what he was seeing. Dugger prospered.

And then we saw a flash of his return skills. He brought the ball all the way back to the 5-yard line, a play which was effectively a pick-six, because Stevenson punched in the ball on the following play. This interception made it clear early that the Patriots were winning this game — an important statement after the Browns’ opening touchdown drive, which in hindsight was their only moment of clarity in the entire game.

Because nothing was working downfield for Cleveland, the Patriots' pass-rush could simply tee off on the Browns QBs

The Patriots’ pass-rush has been plenty good in 2021, with Matthew Judon leading a torrid pace in sacks. In Week 10, he recorded sack 9.5, tying his career-high. But New England’s secondary gave their rush an extra jolt of production. Because of disguises and tight coverage, the Patriots’ rush racked up hits on the quarterback, with one ultimately knocking Mayfield out of the game. His suffered a knee injury.

The Patriots were just a lot better than the Browns.

New England solidified it's standing in the playoff hunt

A loss to the Browns would’ve been brutal for the Patriots’ playoff hopes from a statistical standpoint. Because New England won, it improved it’s chances to 68%. Had the Patriots lost, their chances would have fallen to 32%. That illustrates the importance of this game.

Because the Patriots won, they’re retaining their grasp on the playoff picture, with two games against the Buffalo Bills, the AFC East’s leader, in the coming weeks. Because the Patriots won emphatically, they solidified their claim to be one of the AFC’s best and — maybe just maybe — the best in the AFC by the end of the season.

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