CLEVELAND, Ohio — Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett headed into the Patriots game Sunday vowing to be better after throwing late interceptions in back-to-back losses to the Falcons and Chargers.
Instead, he threw two interceptions — including one on the second play of the game — and lost a fumble when the ball slipped out of his hand late in the game en route to a 38-15 loss to the Patriots (3-3) at FirstEnergy Stadium.
When Brissett wasn’t busy turning the ball over, the defense was blowing coverages against Bailey Zappe, a third-string, fourth-round quarterback starting his second NFL game.
It was the Browns’ third straight loss and dropped them to 2-4 heading into back-to-back AFC North matchups against the Ravens and Bengals. Their only saving grace is that the Ravens lost to fall to 3-3, and the Bengals are also 3-3. The Steelers improved to 2-4.
At least it wasn’t as bad as last year, when the Browns lost 45-7 in New England.
But it still feels like the season is slipping away and that Deshaun Watson won’t have anything to play for when he returns from his suspension Dec. 4 with six games remaining.
Punt returner Chester Rogers also got in on the carnage when he muffed a late punt. The Patriots needed only one play to score on a 19-yard run by Tyquan Thornton for a 31-15 command.
To make matters worse, the Browns lost guard Wyatt Teller during the game to a calf injury. Defensive end Myles Garrett, who broke Clay Matthews’ official club sack record of 62, reinjured his left shoulder on the second two sacks with 5:21 left in the game.
It’s almost to the point where the Browns must think about replacing Brissett, who threw five interceptions in six games and was ineffective all day. He finished 21-of-45 for 266 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a 54.5 rating.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski was asked after the loss if he was considering starting backup quarterback Josh Dobbs instead of Brissett next week at Baltimore.
“No,” he said, not elaborating.
Zappe, now 2-0 as a starter, finished 24-of-34 for 309 yards with two TDs for a 118.4 rating.
The Browns pulled to within 24-15 on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper on a slot fade at the right side of the end zone on a fourth and 5. The two-point pass to Harrison Bryant fell incomplete, and Brissett missed a wide open Njoku.
Cade York, who nailed field goals of 38, 48 and 51 yards, executed the onside kick perfectly, and the Browns’ Ronnie Harrison appeared to recover it. But upon review, Browns cornerback AJ Green had illegally touched the ball while he was out of bounds for a 5-yard penalty and Patriots possession near midfield with 6:16 remaining.
Garrett notched his second sack and left the field with his injury. Alex Wright batted a pass, and it looked like the Browns might still have a shot.
But Chester Rogers muffed the punt, and the Patriots recovered at the Browns’ 19. Tyquan Thornton ran it in on first down to extend the Patriots’ lead to 31-15.
To make matters worse, the ball slipped out of Brissett’s hand on the second play of his next drive for his third turnover of the day. The Patriots recovered and converted it into a 6-yard TD by Rhamondre Stevenson for a 38-15 lead.
“We got beat,” Stefanski said. “… They did a good job, and we beat ourselves a few times too many.”
Patriots’ strong start to the second half
The Patriots stormed out in the second half with a huge 53-yard pass on the second play from Zappe to tight end John Smith to the Browns’ 21.
With the Browns in man coverage, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah appeared to let Smith run free, and then Grant Delpit missed the tackle. MJ Emerson, starting in place of Denzel Ward (concussion), chased down Smith from behind to save the TD.
But the Patriots marched to the 2, and Zappe hit Tyquan Thornton with a 2-yard TD pass in the end zone on a crossing route of the slot, where he beat Greedy Williams for a 17-6 lead with 11:22 left in the third.
They made it 24-6 after Brissett threw his second interception of the game with 7:02 left in the third, when he was hit by an unblocked Ja’Whaun Bentley on a blitz, and he launched an errant pass down the deep right side for David Njoku.
Jalen Mills picked it off to start the Patriots at the Browns 40, and they needed just three plays for Zappe to throw a 31-yard touchdown pass to wide open tight end Hunter Henry. Grant Delpit, who bit on the play-action, fell down on the play, and Henry was left to run free against man coverage.
Brissett was almost intercepted on the drive before, but cornerback Marcus Jones caught the deep ball intended for Anthony Schwartz out of bounds
The Browns had pulled to 10-6 with 26 seconds left in the half on a 48-yard field goal by Cade York to make a bad half a little more respectable.
The Patriots were penalized eight times in the first half, but still managed to take the slight edge into the locker room.
Brissett threw the interception on his second play of the game, a deep pass for tight end Pharaoh Brown. So much for putting those late INTs behind him and being more focused with the ball.
Kyle Duggar, in one-on-one coverage, easily picked off the errant pass to start the Patriots at their 36. It was Brissett’s fourth interception of the season.
Fortunately for Brissett, the defense bailed him out by holding New England to just a 19-yard field goal after they had a first and goal at the 1. Hunter Henry caught an apparent 1-yard TD in the end zone on third down, but he had been nudged out of the back of the end zone by Sione Takitaki. Jordan Elliott also made a nice stop on Stevenson on second and 1 from the 1. The key play on the drive was a 29-yard catch by Davante Parker over Martin Emerson.
The Browns answered with only a field goal of their own, a 38-yarder, to tie it at 3 with 3:00 left in the first quarter. Big play on the drive was a 33-yard pass to David Njoku, who got behind Duggar. Kareem Hunt was stuffed for a yard on third and 4.
Garrett knocked the ball out of Zappe’s hand late in the first quarter for a strip-sack, and the ball was recovered by safety John Johnson III at the Patriots’ 38. The sack broke Clay Matthews’ official club record of 62, with Garrett moving into first with 62.5. It was his fourth sack and second strip of the season.
Unfortunately for him, the offense was unable to cash in. After marching to the 18, Brissett was stopped short on a fourth and 1 sneak to hand the ball back to the Patriots.
The Browns lost right guard Wyatt Teller to a calf injury in the second quarter, and he was replaced by Hjalte Froholdt.
New England went ahead 10-3 with 3:23 left in the half when that porous run defense reared its ugly head again. On a third and 10 draw, Stevenson slipped past Jordan Elliott on the left side and then pranced past MJ Emerson.
The Browns were lucky to have a shot at the field goal at the end of the half thanks to a questionable 21-yard pass interference call against Jalen Mills on third and 10 to the Patriots 38. If not for that, the Browns would’ve was forced to punt from their 41.
Brissett, coming off back-to-back interceptions at the end of losses to the Falcons and Chargers, earned a horrible 44.0 rating in the first half on 9-of-17 passing for 91 yards and the pick.
He missed Cooper a few times deep at the end of the half, with Cooper catching only 1-of-5 targets for 7 yards before the break.
The Browns play at Baltimore next Sunday in a 1 pm kickoff.
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