CLEVELAND — In the first five minutes, the Cleveland Browns looked like they had the potential to control the Patriots and bring the same kind of energy they had the week prior against the Bengals as they looked to get their first win inside Gillette Stadium in nearly 30 years.
Unfortunately, the Browns not only lost control after their first five minutes with the ball, they had a total meltdown, losing to the Patriots in a 45-7 blowout.
The Browns offense looked good in the opening drive, pushing down the field 84 yards in 11 plays, getting running back D’Ernest Johnson in the mix early with Nick Chubb out with COVID-19 and Kareem Hunt still on the injured reserve.
While the Browns were able to drive their way into the red zone, they were held back for three straight plays. After struggling with fourth down conversions in the red zone all season, the effort finally paid off for the Browns as tight end Austin Hooper narrowly brought in a pass for six.
Aside from some solid punting from Jamie Gillian throughout the game, that was it. That was the only good to be found Sunday.
Sunday's loss was downright embarrassing. Head coach Kevin Stefanski described the game as "bad football" and knew everything about the game could have been drastically improved.
Right after scoring on their opening drive, the Browns let the Patriots do the same. The defense allowed the Patriots to go down the field for 83 yards on 15 plays, resulting in a touchdown to tie things up.
And things continued to get away from them after Baker Mayfield threw an interception on a pass intended for tight end David Njoku, picked off by Patriots safety Kyle Dugger and returned for 37 yards, putting New England in direct striking distance for another score. One play later, they did just that and bumped their lead to 14-7 at the top of the second quarter.
Even with nearly three quarters of game left, the Browns did not score again. Just 1-for-11 on third-down conversions, the Browns offense was lackluster, to say the least.
The defense was even worse.
New England converted seven of nine third down attempts, three of which were third-and-long situations that the Browns should have been able to capitalize on to get off the field.
Blown coverage, missed tackles and ineffective scheming saw the Browns defense get embarrassed play in and play out by the rookie Mac Jones, who gashed the Browns by throwing 19-for-23 with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Last week against the Bengals, the Browns had three takeaways—two interceptions and a fumble recovery. That seemed to be a recipe for success, but they failed to replicate Sunday.
The defense even let the rookie quarterback drive 99 yards for a touchdown in just 11 plays, followed by a 92-yard drive for a touchdown in just eight plays not long after.
It was an all-around disaster Sunday, and Stefanski summarized it well.
"They outplayed us, outcoached us," Stefanski said. "They were outscheming us, and then we just ultimately just didn't make enough plays."
If the loss wasn't bad enough, the injuries piled up on Sunday.
Mayfield took a hard hit in the third quarter that sidelined him for the remainder of the game—not so much because of the severity of the injury, but because the Browns were down 31 points and had little to no chance of recovering from the blowout.
"He could have gone back in. It was my choice not to put him back in," Stefanski said.
Wide receiver Anthony Schwartz and cornerback A.J. Green both left Sunday's game with concussions.
The most serious injury came with just minutes left in the game when cornerback Troy Hill had to be stretchered off the field with a neck injury and taken to a local hospital for evaluation. According to the team, he can move his extremities, but the Browns will wait for an update on his condition after he's seen by hospital staff.
Time to hit the drawing board
The Browns have seemingly found their identity, thriving as a run-heavy offense while utilizing play-action with Mayfield. After the interception early in the game, the Browns fell behind, and while maybe not far back enough to abandon the run entirely at that point, still did. The next drive saw just one rushing attempt and five passes. When the Patriots went up two scores, it was lights out for the game on the ground.
Running empty sets, shying away from play action and repeating plays that didn't work the first time are just some of the ways the Browns offense failed.
"On offense, we do want to run the ball, and we do want to take our shots on play action when we have those opportunities, and today we did that for one drive and then it kinda fell apart," said offensive lineman Joel Bitonio.
Blowing coverages, lack of pressure and struggling to make a tackle are just some of the ways the Browns defense failed.
Defensive end Myles Garrett, who made his 13th sack of the season in the opening drive, which was a false indicator of how the game would go, said that they didn't make adjustments in the game the way they needed to.
"We have to go back to the drawing board, and see how we can get better. See how we can scheme better, see how we can make adjustments on the fly. We never had a chance just because we didn't make any adjustments on the sideline or when we had time to," Garrett said. "We didn't make adjustments as in they kept on scoring and we weren't countering that, so we need to be better."
There are a lot of ways to shake things up and make sure a game like Sunday’s doesn’t happen again. Some are as simple as adding lessons in practice and walk-throughs after watching the tape. Others are more drastic: handing off play-calling duties, making big adjustments to a scheme, or — something we’ll probably hear from fans this week — making a change at coordinator. (For what it’s worth, this Browns team doesn’t tend to over-correct, so any major change would come as a surprise.)
Cleveland is back at the bottom of the AFC North with a 5-5 record, but the Browns aren't far behind the Ravens, Steelers or Bengals. There are more games for the Browns to get back on track and move up in the standings, but the season is coming down to the wire quickly.
"We talked about a certain standard that you set for yourself and you have to live up to it every day, and when you're sitting here at 5-5, obviously something's wrong. Got to figure it out and get it fixed," Mayfield said.
The Browns have a week to sort things out as they prepare for what should be a game they can bounce back in, taking on the 0-8-1 Detroit Lions at home. And Mayfield laid out the game plan coming off this loss:
"It's time to reevaluate, and everyone needs to hold themselves accountable," he said.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.