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Zappe and the Patriots Thump Cleveland, Improve to 3-3

Two weeks in a row now, the New England Patriots have laid waste to what’s been put in front of them in the form of the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns. Bailey Zappe, now the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win his first two starts with a passer rating over 100 in both games, ended up having one of the better performances by any quarterback in the league in Week 6.

Don’t Cry Because it’s Over (Maybe), Smile Because it Happened

In what was likely his last start in this stint, Zappe was legitimately fantastic against the Browns. Once again he wasn’t responsible for any turnovers (more on that later) and made some legit throws that we did not see last week against the Lions. One right out of the gate was a perfectly placed 50-50 ball to DeVante Parker, who had a solid outing Sunday. A few plays later Zappe did a tremendous job extending a play down by the goal line, going to Hunter Henry on a touchdown pass that was ultimately nullified to do the latter being out of bounds before making the grab.

Speaking of pressure, Zappe was tremendous in general, in not just sensing it, but also moving around in the pocket to avoid it. A big gain on a crosser to Tyquan Thornton where he stepped up deep in the pocket was the best example of that. And at the end of the day, Zappe gave the Patriots a real shot to win three in a row with Mac Jones out, which is all you can ask for out of a rookie backup.

If this is his last start for the foreseeable future, I would be stunned if people around the league, especially in Foxborough, weren't impressed with the Western Kentucky product. I would guess Jones will be taking over next Monday night, but I would feel completely comfortable with Zappe under center at this point. The talk of him being better than McCorkle is a little overboard, but Zappe is legit, based on this sample size. Give credit to Matt Patricia and Joe Judge for getting him up to speed this quick as well. Going to be interesting if teams end up calling about him down the road.

Not the Wynning Formula

Don’t think it’s any secret that Isaiah Wynn has been the weak line on this Patriots' offensive line this year. Leading the league in penalties this season, he had a big false start penalty on the Patriots' first offensive drive inside the red zone. Then, much like in the Green Bay game against Rashan Gary, he allowed a bad strip sack going up against Myles Garrett, who was moved to the opposite side of the line just to match up with Wynn.

Needless to say, he was benched shortly thereafter in favor of Marcus Cannon. After that, the offensive line penalties, which were out of control in the early portion of the day, became scarce. Moving forward, I have a hard time believing that Cannon getting the nod at right tackle doesn’t give the Patriots a better shot to win games over Wynn. Especially when Mac Jones returns, likely as soon as next week.

Tyquan Arrives

With Nelson Agholor out before the game and Kendrick Bourne going down with a toe injury mid-game, Tyquan Thornton got an increased workload in his second career game. Not only did he get his first career touchdown, but his second as well at First Energy Stadium. Furthermore, he becomes the first Patriot receiver to score a receiving a rushing touchdown as a rookie since the great Irving Fryar in 1985. On top of the Zappe to Thornton score being the first rookie-to-rookie touchdown pass since Drew Bledsoe to Vincent Brisby in 1993.

All things considered; Thornton looked like he belonged if nothing else. He caught four of his five targets and cut it upfield very well on his jet sweep score. He also was reportedly dealing with something off the field, as relayed by Jonnu Smith post-game. A now-deleted Instagram story shows that he perhaps lost someone close to him recently. Hoping Thornton is holding up well whatever the case may be.

"Retweet to Scare Josh McDaniels"

Although Jonnu Smith only got two targets and catches on the day, he picked up 61 total yards, with close to all of those coming after the catch. One was a huge 50-plus yard play to set up the Patriots nicely to begin the second half. Crazy what happens when you put the ball in the hands of a guy who is a RAC monster and let him go to work.

Plays like that are exactly why you go out and pay a guy like Smith 12 million a year the minute free agency opens. Because he can do stuff exactly like this every week. Granted it was only twice today, but that’s more (good) looks he got when Josh McDaniels was calling the shots. Speaking of which how are the Raiders doing right now?

Shutting down the Highway

Both teams made a concerted effort to shut down each other’s rushing attacks, but the Patriots had their best performance of the year against arguably the best back in football. Nick Chubb had a grand total of just 56 rushing yards on 12 carries Sunday. Outside of one 18-yard run in the third quarter, Chubb has zero runs over 10 yards for the game, and just five runs over five yards for the game. For a team with real concerns with its run defense, that was beyond impressive. Give a ton of credit to guys like Devon Godchaux and Carl Davis for being huge upfront. As well as rookie Sam Roberts, who came in relief of an injured Christian Barmore in some spots.

While Matt Judon was held without a sack for the first time all year, the Patriots' pass rush was as good as it has been all year. Jacoby Brissett was under constant pressure all game and went down four times in total. Mack Wilson’s half-sack with Anfernee Jennings was especially impressive. After nearly getting Brissett to the ground, he played all the way to the whistle and chased him to the boundary to get the sack. That hustle play should do him wonders in the eyes of Bill Belichick.

Outside of an Amari Cooper 4th and Goal touchdown against Myles Bryant. The secondary collectively did a good job limiting the damage Cooper and David Njoku ultimately did. Cooper ended up getting targeted a team-high 12 times and ended the day with four catches for 44 yards and a score. Njoku meanwhile made Kyle Dugger bite hard in the flat for a 30-plus yard gain, but ultimately wasn’t much of a factor on Sunday. Marcus Jones getting progressively more playing time on defense isn’t going unnoticed either. The Houston product almost made a highlight reel interception on the sideline in the second half as well. Unsurprisingly as well, Jack Jones was once again tremendous.

Up Next: DA BURS

Next up is the Patriots' first look in primetime this season, being in a Monday Night Football matchup with the Chicago Bears. If you saw that trainwreck of a Thursday Night Football game a few days ago, you’d know that the Bears as constructed aren’t exactly a world-beater. They do at the least have a probable answer at quarterback in Justin Fields. Don’t let his numbers skew things for you, he has absolutely nothing to work with outside of wideout Darnell Mooney and running back David Montgomery.

(Context on this throw above, he got absolutely crushed earlier in this game and was visibly shaken up good, but stayed in for the distance)

Chicago’s offensive line is also one of the worst in the league which doesn’t help things. If you watched Fields at Ohio State, however, you already know he is tough as nails and has the tools to succeed in the NFL. Shame that the old regime of Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace dealt him a brutal hand for his opening NFL season. New Head Coach Matt Eberflus and GM Ryan Poles should hopefully get things back on track for them this offseason, having the most cap space in the league.

Final Score: New England Patriots 38, Cleveland Browns 15

Gaffney's Three Stars:

1st Star – Bailey “Raichu/Zapdos/Lt. Surge” Zappe (24/34 for 308 yards, 2 TDs)

2nd Star – Patriots Run Defense (Held Nick Chubb to 56 Yards on 12 Carries without Lawrence Guy)

3rd Star – Brendan Schooler (Muffed Punt Recovery led to Dagger TD)

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