FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Once again, the Cleveland Browns self-destructed.
And against the defending Super Bowl champions, that proved too much to overcome.
Cleveland committed turnovers on three consecutive plays in the first quarter, which propelled New England to an early 17-point lead on the way to a 27-13 victory Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
The Browns became the first NFL team this season to turn the ball over three times in a first quarter. And Cleveland running back Nick Chubb became the first NFL player to fumble on consecutive plays from scrimmage since former Browns QB DeShone Kizer achieved the ignominious feat two years ago, according to Elias Sports.
The Patriots scored two touchdowns off the turnovers, including Dont'a Hightower's 26-yard scoop-and-score off Chubb’s first fumble.
Chubb’s second fumble came on Cleveland’s next snap after a 44-yard run, in which Devin McCourty stripped Chubb from behind, robbing the Browns of a prime opportunity to counter with a touchdown of their own.
On the Browns’ ensuing possession, Baker Mayfield's shovel pass intended for Jarvis Landry was intercepted behind the line of scrimmage by defensive end Lawrence Guy. Two plays later, Tom Brady found Julian Edelman in the end zone, giving the Patriots a commanding 17-0 lead they would not relinquish.
Pivotal play: Despite the early turnover barrage, the Browns cut the lead to 17-10 and had New England in third-and-10 midway through the third quarter. Cleveland's defense, however, couldn’t get off the field. The Patriots cooked up a 59-yard screen play to a wide open James White, which set up a Brady touchdown pass four plays later. Cleveland failed to get as close again the rest of the way.
Troubling trend: The NFL's most penalized team coming into the weekend was flagged 13 more times for 85 yards. Coach Freddie Kitchens has been saying since the opener, when the Browns committed 18 penalties in a loss to the Tennessee Titans, that his team had to eliminate penalties. But almost two months later, committing crucial penalties remains a huge problem for a team that still can't get out of its own way.
Silver lining: The schedule eases significantly the rest of the way. The Browns have only two games left against opponents with winning records (Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens). The rest are a combined 9-40-1. The opportunity for a late-season surge is there.
Bold prediction for next week: Browns general manager John Dorsey makes a trade for an offensive tackle before the trade deadline. Cleveland recently benched left tackle Greg Robinson for Justin McCray, who's really a guard. Landing Redskins All-Pro Trent Williams is the dream scenario. Regardless, reinforcements figure to be on the way up front for an offensive line that desperately needs them.