The New England Patriots improved to 6-4 on the 2021 season with an impressive Week Ten victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones went 19 of 23 passing for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow rookie, Rhamondre Stevenson, rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns. On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots were sold against the run, as well as the pass. Safety Kyle Dugger also intercepted Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield, as New England put forth a dominant performance on both sides of the ball, beating the Browns 45-7 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Though the spirits in New England’s locker room are as high as they have been all season, there are still plenty of lessons to be learned from the Pats performance on Sunday against the Browns.
Lesson One: The Patriots 2021 Rookie Class Has the Chance to be Really Special
In the aftermath of the 2021 NFL Draft, many Patriots fans (and media alike) had notable praise for the team’s overall class. However, not many had the foresight to realize the depth of potential for this collection of rookies. On Sunday, quarterback Mac Jones, running back Rhamondre Stevenson and defensive tackle Christian Barmore showcased the talent that may put them among the league’s elite players at their respective positions for many years to come.
Jones had his best game as a pro, finishing the game by throwing only four incompletions, while converting seven of nine third down attempts. The Pats rookie first rounder had his first multi-touchdown game of his career, while showcasing his ability to sustain long drives, while also throwing deep and into tight coverage.
Despite some questions as to whether he would be able to play, Stevenson performed brilliantly. Not only did Stevenson run for power, but also demonstrated the speed necessary to break for big yardage. The former Oklahoma Sooner touched the ball 24 times total for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
As the Patriots second-round draft choice out of Alabama, Barmore may eventually go down as the biggest steal of the 2021 NFL Draft. He has already established himself as one of the Patriots most reliable defenders. However, he continues to make his case to be mentioned among the best rookie defenders in the league. Barmore finished the game with four tackles and seemed to be constantly applying pressure.
While there is still much football to be played in 2021, the Patriots rookie class is clearly establishing itself as having the potential to be one of the best on record in recent memory.
Lesson Two: Reports of Josh McDaniels’ Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
New England’s offensive coordinator has often been maligned this season. Both fans and media have seemed all too eager to point out McDaniels’ miscues in play calling as well as taking a perceived conservative approach in the development of quarterback Mac Jones. However, on Sunday, he demonstrated that his command of the Patriots offense is very much intact. On Sunday, McDaniels dialed up the ideal balance of runs and screens to complement the team’s preferred run/pass schemes. The quick-timing approach was successful in helping to keep Cleveland’s aggressive defense from finding a rhythm. Browns’ star defensive end Myles Garrett was largely kept in check, thanks to McDaniels’ plan to balance the Pats’ offensive attack. Still, McDaniels’ most-significant step forward might be the level of comfort he seems to be developing when devising plays for quarterback Mac Jones. As the Pats’ top offensive coach develops a greater synergy with his rookie passer, New England’s offense will only continue to improve.
Lesson Three: Hunter Henry is in the Zone…Literally.
Since his days as a Los Angeles Charger, Henry has been widely praised for his versatility. The 26-year-old is most productive when playing the traditional “Y” role, accentuating his route running skills, as well as his ability to box out. He has also proven himself a strong blocker and reliable pass catcher. However, one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2021 season for the Patriots offense has been Henry’s effectiveness as a red zone target. Henry has seven touchdowns thus far in 2021, including his two touchdowns in Sunday’s win over Cleveland. Overall, he has compiled 343 receiving yards on 31 catches. Yet, Henry’s ability to get open in the red zone has made him a favorite target of Mac Jones. Henry’s career-high in touchdowns for a given season was set during his rookie year of 2016 with the then-San Diego Chargers. With seven on the season already, Henry is not just on pace to break that record, he is likely to shatter it.
Lesson Four: These Patriots Can Provide the ‘Must-Win’
While Week Ten may be a bit early to declare a must-win when it comes to playoff implications, Sunday’s matchup between the Pats and the Browns came pretty close. With both teams at 5-4, a win was considered a highly sought-after commodity to maintain their postseason hopes. For the Patriots, a loss to the Browns would have decreased their chances of qualifying for the playoffs to 32 percent. However, with their victory, the Pats now have a 68 percent chance of earning a spot in the postseason. As a result, New England approached Week Ten as a must-win. With their dominant performance against a formidable opponent, the Patriots proved that they are capable of earning a victory when it is most needed.