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3 Big Takeaways: Browns’ self-inflicted wounds are again too much to overcome

FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts -- “We came in and beat ourselves.” 

That was the main takeaway from the 27-13 loss to the New England Patriots on a dreary Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

The Browns put themselves in a tough spot with early mistakes and faced a team that rarely commits such blunders. That combination produced Cleveland’s third-straight loss.

Not all is lost, though. There are nine games to go, and as Baker Mayfield said after Sunday’s loss, everything is still in front of these Browns.

Here are our three big takeaways from the defeat.

1. Penalties and turnovers

Apologies for sounding like a broken record, but the same issues again downed the Browns against the Patriots. Even after a bye week worth of rest, focus on fundamentals and preparation for New England, the Browns dug themselves a huge hole in the first quarter by turning the ball over three times, producing 14 New England points off such turnovers. They ended the first quarter down 17-0 to a team that is notorious for playing mistake-free football.

Their mistakes weren’t matched by the Patriots, of course, but the Browns even overcame that fact to bring the game within one score at 17-10 early in the second half. They had chances to regain possession, too, but too often found themselves committing the same mistakes that gave New England fresh sets of downs, or backed up their own offense into nearly insurmountable down-and-distance situations.

In the end, the combination of turnovers (3) and penalties (13 for 85 yards) was too much for the Browns to overcome. Freddie Kitchens said as much repeatedly in his postgame presser, and Mayfield echoed the same sentiments moments later.

This team has had two straight game weeks of crisp practice (with a bye wedged in between), but hasn’t produced a win in either contest. It feels like they’re getting closer, especially when they battled back to make it a game against arguably the best team in the NFL. These Patriots didn’t appear to be an unstoppable force; they just didn’t give the Browns space to make up chunks of lost ground.

“It doesn’t matter how close you get to it if you commit turnovers and have 13 penalties — and I don’t know how many of those were false starts,” Kitchens said after the loss. “It doesn’t matter. You can get close all you want. You’re gonna end up short every time. Every time. There’s not even a doubt.”

Perhaps they turn the corner next week. At 2-5, it would help immensely.

Check out photos of the Browns against the Patriots

2. Chubb train keeps rolling

Yes, he fumbled the ball twice, but if we’re explaining turnovers — explaining, not making excuses — we should explain that the first fumble was kicked out of Chubb’s possession by his own teammate. The second was an excellent play made by New England’s Jonathan Jones, who made an incredible effort to hawk down Chubb and an even more impressive play when he clubbed the ball out of Chubb’s grasp.

Should Chubb hang onto the ball better? Sure, but it was also a rainy, wet day in Foxborough. Ball security was going to be an issue regardless because of the conditions.

What Chubb did outside of those two fumbles was arguably more important. The consistent ground gainer carried the ball a total of 20 times for 131 yards, including a long of 44 that almost surely would have been in the end zone had Jones not clubbed the ball out of Chubb’s grasp.

“We ran the ball well. We did exactly what we wanted to do in the run game,” Kitchens said. “That was the game plan. We did it. We held them, stopped them from running. I thought our defense played well enough to win. Offensively, we can’t turn the ball over. That was the game.”

With each week, Chubb continues to prove why he’s one of the best up and coming running backs in the NFL. Chubb has the fifth-most rushing yards through seven games in franchise history with 738. The other four in front of him? They’re all marks owned by one of the greatest to ever play the game, Hall of Famer Jim Brown.

Chubb probably doesn’t attract the attention he deserves because of how quietly he goes about his business, but make no mistake — Chubb has been the best offensive player for the Browns this season by a long shot. New England got a firsthand understanding of how much he can impact a game, even in a loss.

3. Hats off to the defense

This might sound strange, considering the Browns lost 27-13, but the defense did a bang-up job against the Patriots.

As Kitchens said in the above point, the defense played well enough to win the game. Yet again, it held an opponent to three points when seven seemed imminent. The defensive line did a consistent job of clogging running lanes and stringing out most carries given to Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead, limiting the Patriots to 79 yards on the ground. The front seven pressured Tom Brady, forcing him to fire the ball into the turf or throw it out of bounds on multiple occasions. He finished with a sub-100 passer rating. Only one target did noticeable damage in the passing game: Julian Edelman, who caught eight of 11 targets for 78 yards and two scores.

Olivier Vernon had his best game as a Brown, affecting all parts of the Patriots’ offense and recording a sack. Myles Garrett notched sack No. 10 of the season.

As a unit, the Browns held the Patriots under 5 yards per play, despite the fact New England won the time of possession battle by more than four minutes.

It might sound familiar at this point, but after a couple weeks in which the defense started to look vulnerable (in losses to San Francisco and Seattle), it rebounded well against the top team in the entire NFL. That could snowball into a takeaway-filled game next week and beyond.

Again, this all feels like it might be building toward a drastic turn of a corner. The loss stings now, but if the Browns can minimize mistakes, pair it with this defense and continue on the upward path started by the offense in the last two games (turnovers aside), we might see something positive starting in Week 9.

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