1. Browns frustrated with inconsistencies
The Browns' Week 10 performance in New England was a complete turnaround from how they played just one week ago in Cincinnati.
It was only seven days ago when the Browns offense was humming in both the run and pass departments en route to a 41-point day. Six of those points were also scored by the defense, which generated three takeaways against the Bengals and shut down all of their top offensive weapons. The performance matched exactly what the Browns believed they could achieve on a weekly basis.
None of those trends continued in New England. The offense totaled just 217 yards, which was the lowest output ever recorded under head coach Kevin Stefanski. The defense surrendered touchdowns on six of the Patriots' nine offensive drives and only managed to stop them on two of nine third-down opportunities.
"I think inconsistency is frustrating," Stefanski said. "That's where we have to do a good job as coaches of identifying things we can correct. And then we got to have accountability with the players and correct those things. Any time you're inconsistent like we are right now, it's really frustrating."
No one on the Browns had an explanation for the lack of consistency that's plagued them for most of the season. Cleveland hasn't won back-to-back games since it defeated Houston, Chicago and Minnesota from Weeks 2-4, and everything since that winning streak has been uneven.
The Browns, though, know they must find solutions and show consistent form soon to stay in the playoff race. They're 5-5 and in last place in the AFC North, but the conference's playoff race couldn't be much closer — 12 teams have five or more wins.
"We need to take this one week at a time, to be honest with you," QB Baker Mayfield said. "There's no other answer besides that. So we got to find ways to win each week. That's where we're at right now and that's the reality."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Patriots in Week Ten
2. Offense sputters after opening drive
For the first five minutes, the Browns offense was playing well within its identity and appeared to be in for an efficient day.
RB D'Ernest Johnson was given his second start of the season, as the Browns were without Nick Chubb and Demetric Felton — both placed on Reserve/COVID-19 list — and Kareem Hunt (calf). On the first drive, Johnson gave the Browns the same big runs they're used to with their other top backs and rushed for 58 yards on four carries. The drive ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield to TE Austin Hooper, but the success of the sequence was largely built behind Johnson, whose biggest play was a 24-yard run.
That play, though, ended up being the Browns' longest of the game. Cleveland couldn't generate many big gains with its passing game, which it largely turned to after the Patriots began to build a big lead, and it struggled to find any success on third downs. The Browns converted on just one third down in 11 opportunities.
Stefanski credited the Patriots with a good game plan, one that made it difficult for them to find any passing lanes as well as generate more big runs from Johnson.
"They did a nice job," Stefanski said Monday. "We came back to a couple of runs that hit in that opening drive and, and they didn't the second time around. They played physical. There were a couple opportunities we had but ultimately, I would tell you the big thing for us was third down and not being able to continue to drive, stay on the field."
3. Injuries hit Browns
The Browns received good news Monday about CB Troy Hill, who exited the game Sunday on a stretcher after attempting to tackle Jakobi Meyers late in the fourth quarter. Hill was taken to a Boston-area hospital, where he was released Sunday night and cleared to return to Cleveland on Monday.
CB A.J. Green and WR Anthony Schwartz each suffered concussions and didn't return to the game. The Browns didn't have any immediate update on their statuses.
Mayfield injured his knee after taking a hard hit in the third quarter. He didn't return to the game and was replaced by Case Keenum after he was tended to by medical staff in the injury tent, but Stefanski said he wanted to keep Mayfield out of the game due to the score and to prevent him from further injury.
"It was my choice not to put him back in," Stefanski said. "Baker's a competitor. I just didn't feel it was the right thing to do, to put him out there."
Mayfield doesn't believe the injury should affect his availability for Week 11 against Detroit.
"I've got to find a way to get as healthy as possible," he said. "I'm pretty beat up right now. But, it was just an awkward hit and landing. So we'll see. Day by day."