The Browns dug themselves a big hole early Sunday in Foxborough and couldn't recover as they lost their fifth game of the season.
An early lead quickly became a sizable deficit as the Browns struggled to sustain long offensive drives and slow down the Patriots' rookie duo of QB Mac Jones and RB Rhamondre Stevenson in a 45-7 defeat. The Patriots totaled 452 yards of offense while the Browns were held to 217 yards.
The loss is the Browns' fourth in the last six weeks and drops them back in a tight playoff chase in the AFC.
"We got our butts kicked," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "We got outcoached in every phase, outplayed in every phase. It was very disappointing. I'm very disappointed in myself, the players, the coaches. It was not a good outgoing."
The Browns found the scoreboard first thanks to a 2-yard touchdown from Baker Mayfield to Austin Hooper, but everything after the score went in a negative direction for Cleveland.
The Browns allowed the Patriots to score touchdowns on their first three drives of the game, and the first of them was a 3-yard pass from Jones to Hunter Henry. A Mayfield interception on the following Browns drive allowed the Patriots to get back in the end zone just four plays later — safety Kyle Dugger returned the pick to the 5-yard line, and the ball was punched in by Stevenson on the next play.
From there, momentum was difficult to find for the Browns.
They converted on just one third down in the game and averaged just 3.8 yards per play, while the Patriots proceeded to plow through the defense for big gains. Their third touchdown to go up 21-7 in the second quarter was scored after they drove 99 yards and converted on three third-down attempts, and a fatigued Browns defense never recovered.
"I think we didn't counter like we are supposed to," defensive end Myles Garrett said. "We didn't stop the bleeding and they kept attacking where we were deficient."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Patriots in Week Ten
D'Ernest Johnson started at running back for the Browns for the second time this season after Nick Chubb and Demetric Felton were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier in the week. Kareem Hunt also missed his fourth straight game due to a calf injury.
Johnson appeared set for a big day after he found 58 yards on just four carries on the Browns' opening touchdown drive, but his production was stymied until the last quarter as the Browns turned to the pass game in hopes of igniting the offense. He finished with 19 carries for 99 yards.
Mayfield, meanwhile, went 11-for-21 for 73 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a 56.2 quarterback rating, his lowest of the season. His day ended in the third quarter after he took a hard hit from Matthew Judon and needed to be tended to by trainers on the field. Mayfield was escorted to the injury tent and returned to the sidelines, but Case Keenum completed the rest of the game at quarterback after the Browns ruled Mayfield as questionable to return with a knee injury.
"We talked about a certain standard that we set," Mayfield said. "You have to live up to it every day. And when you're sitting here at 5-5, obviously, something's wrong. So we've got to figure it out and get it fixed."
On the other side of the ball, the Browns failed to contain Jones, a 2021 first-round pick, and Stevenson, a 2021 fourth-round pick. Jones went 19-for-23 with only 198 yards and three touchdowns, but he didn't need to pass the ball far due to the performance of Stevenson, who rushed 20 times for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
Both players exited midway through the fourth quarter, but the Patriots didn't stop scoring — Brian Hoyer hit WR Jakobi Meyers with a touchdown pass with 4 minutes left for the final score of the game.
The Browns saw three players leave the game due to injury. WR Anthony Schwartz and CBs AJ Green and Troy Hill all exited the game early. Hill suffered a neck injury after the Meyers touchdown and left the field on a stretcher. The Browns said he had movement in all his extremities and was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation.
Cleveland returns to FirstEnergy Stadium next week with a 5-5 record to face the Detroit Lions.