FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)A month ago, the New England Patriots were 2-4 and appeared headed for a second straight season of irrelevance.
Four games later, they are back in a familiar spot as a playoff contender in the AFC.
Mac Jones threw three touchdown passes, rookie Rhamondre Stevenson rushed for a career-high 100 yards and two scores, and the Patriots rolled to a 45-7 victory over Cleveland Sunday as the Browns lost quarterback Baker Mayfield to a knee injury.
The Browns (5-5) have dropped four of their last six and haven’t won at New England since 1992, when Bill Belichick was their coach.
Jones finished 19 of 23 for 198 yards passing. Hunter Henry added a pair of TD receptions as New England (6-4) went 7 of 9 on third down.
”That’s how you want to play the game of football,” Jones said. ”It’s just a three-level game and when we click on all cylinders, we can be pretty good.”
Playing without star running back Nick Chubb, who missed the game after a positive COVID-19 test, the Browns were held to 217 total yards and were 1 of 11 on third down.
”They outplayed us, outcoached us,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. ”Mac Jones in particular, but their offense played really well. We could not get them off on third down.”
Mayfield limped off the field after taking a pair of hits in the third quarter.
Edge rusher Deatrich Wise Jr. drove Mayfield into the turf and was penalized for roughing the passer. Two plays later, linebacker Matt Judon crunched into Mayfield’s midsection, and the QB was slow to get up.
A few minutes later, he left the game and was replaced by Case Keenum, who was sacked on back-to-back plays. Mayfield visited the sideline medical tent and later limped out. He remained on the sideline for the rest of the game.
Mayfield was 11 for 21 for 73 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Stefanski said Mayfield could have gone back into the game and said the QB wanted to return.
Mayfield said an X-ray after the game showed no structural damage. He said he expects to play next week.
”Gotta find a way to get as healthy as possible,” Mayfield said. ”Pretty beat up right now. It was just an awkward hit and landing. So, we’ll see. Day by day.”
The Patriots’ offense did just fine without running back Damien Harris (concussion), scoring on all four possessions in the first half to take a 24-7 lead.
Stevenson’s big day came after he missed practice all week while in concussion protocol.
Cleveland got on the scoreboard first via a 2-yard TD from Mayfield to Austin Hooper.
New England responded with a 15-play, 83-yard drive on which Jones went 6-for-6 for 55 yards. The drive took 9:39 off the clock, concluding when Jones tossed a 3-yard touchdown to Hunter Henry, his sixth TD catch in seven games.
The Patriots then turned defense into offense. Kyle Dugger returned an interception 37 yards, setting up a 5-yard TD run by Stevenson.
J.C. Jackson dropped what would have been an interception on the Browns’ ensuing possession, forcing a punt that pinned the Patriots on the 1-yard line. It didn’t stop them from marching the length of the field in 11 plays and scoring on Jones’ 23-yard TD pass to Kendrick Bourne.
The Patriots added two more long drives in the second half. They marched 92 yards to Stevenson’s second TD, a 2-yard run in the third quarter. Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer led a 95-yard scoring drive in the fourth.
”That was really a great day here for us today on so many different levels,” Belichick said.
Browns: CB Troy Hill was wheeled off the field on a stretcher with a neck injury with 4:13 left in the fourth quarter after being hurt on Jakobi Meyers’ TD catch. The team said he had movement in his extremities and was taken to local hospital for further evaluation. … WR Anthony Schwartz and CB A.J. Green both sustained concussions in the third quarter and didn’t return.
Patriots: CB Jalen Mills (arm) left in the game in first quarter but was able to return.
Jones is the first Patriots rookie with three or more TD passes in a game since Drew Bledsoe (four) in Week 18 of the 1993 season vs. Miami. He is the first rookie in franchise history with three or more passing TDs and no interceptions in a game.
”There’s a little Jekyll and Hyde there. There’s been some games where we showed what we could be. … In the AFC, 9-8’s not going to get you into the playoffs. We’ve got to find a way to win some games.” – Browns left guard Joel Bitonio.
Browns: Host Detroit next Sunday.
Patriots: At Atlanta on Thursday night.
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