Patriots looking primed for playoff push after blowout win

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Matt Judon has experienced a lot of emotions during the Patriots’ four-game win streak.

Surprise isn’t one of them.

While there were certainly things to clean up after their 2-4 start to the season, the linebacker said the mood in New England’s locker room has remained consistent.

“We didn’t get down on ourselves at all. We knew the type of players we have. We knew that we had to execute a little bit better and hone in on the small details,” Judon said. “I think that’s what we did, and we started executing in practice and it started showing up in games.”

The latest result, Sunday’s 45-7 blowout of the Browns, has the Patriots enjoying their longest win streak since 2019. More importantly, it puts them squarely back in the AFC postseason hunt.

Despite not having leading rusher Damien Harris (concussion), New England still had one of its most efficient offensive efforts of the season, scoring on all four of its possessions in the first half. It also had three 90-yard touchdown drives, the only time that’s happened during Bill Belichick’s tenure as coach.

Defensively, the Patriots were just as locked in on their way to holding Cleveland scoreless over the final three quarters.

There are many positive signs with only a few days to prepare before a Thursday night matchup with Atlanta.

Like Judon, safety Devin McCourty said the biggest change he’s seen in recent weeks has been the team’s improved preparation.

“We know how to go out and execute. That comes from the week. That comes from making mistakes in practice and fixing them. We just have to keep doing that,” he said. “I don’t think confidence comes from just playing well for a couple games and it is just going to happen.”

While he’s pleased to see the progress his team has made, Belichick said it’s all part of the longer journey.

“I think each year has its own dynamics. Each team develops its own unique way. Sometimes there’s carry over, sometimes there isn’t, or there’s similarities. Sometimes I don’t know if you know that until it’s all over,” he said. “Hopefully, some of the work that we’re doing now will pay off.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Patriots struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone during their first six games, getting into the end zone on just 9 of 19 opportunities. They’ve picked things up dramatically during their win streak, scoring TDs on 9 of their past 11 trips inside the 20-yard line.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Penalties are still unusually high for a team that’s been typically disciplined under Belichick. New England was flagged six times Sunday, its sixth game with six or more infractions this season. The Patriots had only two such games through their first 10 games in 2020.

STOCK UP

The Patriots held the Browns to 99 yards rushing, the first time this season an opponent has been held under the century mark in back-to-back games. While the absence of Cleveland running back Nick Chubb played a role, it’s a good sign for a unit that was pushed around up front earlier in the season.

STOCK DOWN

A week after not having a pass thrown his way, receiver Nelson Agholor was targeted four times and had just two catches for 21 yards. He signed a two-year, $20 million free agent deal in the offseason and was supposed to give the offense a boost at the position. But he hasn’t caught more than three passes in a game since the season opener.

INJURED

The Patriots entered Sunday with 12 players listed on the injury report as questionable. They left the game relatively unscathed. Cornerback Jalen Mills left in the first quarter with an arm injury but was able to return.

KEY NUMBER

250 — The win marked Belichick’s 250th regular-season victory with the Patriots, tying him for third on the career list. He becomes the fourth coach to reach that milestone with one team, joining George Halas (318 with Chicago), Don Shula (257 with Miami) and Tom Landry (250 with Dallas).

NEXT STEPS

The Thursday matchup with the Falcons is one of only two non-Sunday games for the Patriots this season. The other is a Monday night trip to Buffalo on Dec. 6.

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