Bill Belichick Checkmates Kevin Stefanski In Two Moves, And Browns Bow To Patriots, 45-7

The good news about this play was the Patriots were flagged for roughing the quarterback. It didn't matter. Baker Mayfield was knocked out of the game two plays later. (Cleveland Browns)

The good news about this play was the Patriots were flagged for roughing the quarterback. It didn't matter. Baker Mayfield was knocked out of the game two plays later. (Cleveland Browns)

Bill Belichick checkmates Kevin Stefanski in two moves, and Browns bow to Patriots, 45-7

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland.


If this were a chess match between the last two coaches to win playoff games for the Browns – 27 years apart – score it a checkmate for Bill Belichick in two moves.

Belichick wanted to take away the Browns unstoppable running game. He did it with two touchdowns early in the game.

Down, 14-7, early in the second quarter, Kevin Stefanski panicked. Emergency starting running back D’Ernest Johnson had carved up Belichick’s defense for 58 yards on four carries in the Browns’ scripted opening touchdown drive. But after falling behind by one score, Stefanski let his banged-up quarterback throw on five of his next six plays after an awful interception.

Bad, unforced error.

In chess, the game ends when the loser tips his King. If only Stefanski could have done that, everyone would have been home before dark and a few injuries could have been avoided.

But in football, the rout is played to the end. And this got uglier as the Browns’ defense continued with an effort that can diplomatically be described as dubious.

New England 45, Browns 7.

The worst beating in Stefanski’s two years one week after his largest margin of victory. It’s that kind of season.

And, no, that wasn’t Tom Brady and Richard Seymour dominating their sides of the ball for Belichick’s 6-4 Patriots.

The Joe Woods defense was embarrassed by a pair of rookies – quarterback Mac Jones and running back Rhamondre Stevenson. The defense gave up seven scores in eight New England possessions.

Jones was marvelous, pinning a career-high three touchdown passes and a ridiculous 142.1 passer rating on a Browns defense that had humbled the Bengals a week ago. And Stevenson added his first career 100-yard rushing game after not practicing all week while in concussion protocol.

Entering the day, the Patriots were the only NFL team not to have a scoring drive of 80 yards or more. Jones engineered scoring drives of 83, 99, 92 and 47 yards. When Belichick allowed Jones his first-ever ceremonial lifting, Brian Hoyer tacked on a touchdown drive of 95 yards.

On defense, the Browns gave up 7 of 9 third-down conversions.

On offense, the Browns made 1 of 11 third-down conversions.

“It was bad football,” Stefanski muttered.

You figured if Stefanski ever was going to tongue-lash his team after an abysmal effort, this would have been it. But at the podium in the bowels of Gillette Stadium, Stefanski looked like he’d been hit by a sledgehammer.

“We got outcoached in every phase,” he said a hundred times.

As much as the humiliating score, Stefanski may have been shaken by the physical beating his team took.

Cornerback Troy Hill was taken to a local hospital for observation after suffering a neck injury that required immobilization on a wooden board to be transported to an ambulance. The Browns said he was moving his extremities, but had no other update.

Receiver Anthony Schwartz and cornerback A.J. Green left the game with concussions.

And Mayfield was knocked out in the third quarter with a contusion to his right knee. That came after a “flesh wound” to his left knee and a foot sprain in last week’s game to go along with that bum left shoulder that won’t be right until surgery.

Mayfield had an awful time just climbing one step to reach the podium in the funereal post-mortem.

Asked about playing against Detroit on Sunday, Mayfield stammered, “I mean, it's – got to find a way to get as healthy as possible. I'm pretty beat up right now.”

One week after proving he didn’t need Odell Beckham Jr. to make the passing game work, Mayfield had a terrible time getting the ball to his wideouts. He was 1 of 6 throwing to wide receivers. 

Jarvis Landry ended up with four catches for 26 yards. Donovan Peoples-Jones had one for 16. The remaining 14 Browns completions were to Johnson and the tight ends – probably just as Belichick drew it up.

Mayfield's injury occurred on an awkward fall from a hit by Matthew Judon on a short incompletion for Johnson. That ended a four-play sequence on which Mayfield was sacked by two rushers, and then Hawaiian-splashed to the ground by 275-pound lineman Deatrich Wise after a throw.

“It’s embarrassing. It’s not good,” said guard Joel Bitonio. “You don’t want to see your quarterback hit.”

To be fair to the offensive line, giving Belichick a 20-plus point lead is like throwing chum to the sharks.

The Browns’ defense is the side that should be embarrassed.

Myles Garrett said something about not making adjustments on the sideline and safety John Johnson said the Patriots “did a good job of attacking what we have had trouble with this season. I felt like a lot of screens and reverses we kept getting hit on. We couldn’t get off on third down.  I don’t think it was anything by surprise, we just weren’t on our game today.”

Bitonio made a sweeping statement that “there’s certain things we can’t accept if we want to be a good team.” He clarified he was referring to turnovers and penalties.

But the effort put forth – or lack thereof -- really was eye-opening.

Stefanski wouldn’t bite on that.

“Any time a team is having a lot of success versus you, it's easy to think that the effort's not there. But I wouldn't say that without watching the tape. We were just getting – they were out-scheming us and then we just ultimately didn't make enough plays,” he said.

So now the Browns are 5-5. With losses to AFC playoff contenders Kansas City, Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh and New England, the Browns currently are seeded 12th among the 16 AFC teams. Seven make the playoff field.

“I think at this point we – everybody in our building -- has to look in the mirror and just kind of re-evaluate and be accountable to themselves, to each other,” Mayfield said. “Because we're sitting – you know, sitting somewhere where we thought we'd be in a better place right now. But we're not.” 

It is not a happy place, to be sure.