CLEVELAND -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady missed the first four games of the 2016 regular season because of an NFL-mandated suspension for allegedly having footballs deflated prior to the 2015 AFC Championship Game, and he took out that frustration against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday.
In his return to action, Brady completed 28 of his 40 throws for 406 yards with three touchdowns on the way to a 33-13 win for the Patriots (4-1) over the Browns (0-5). It marked the eighth time in his 17-year career that Brady threw for 400 yards in a game, and all three of those touchdown passes went to tight end Martellus Bennett.
Two of Brady’s targets, wide receiver Chris Hogan and tight end Rob Gronkowski, eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Despite being evaluated for a concussion early in the second half, Hogan turned four catches into 114 yards, while Gronkowski tallied 109 yards.
Conversely, the Browns had three players line up at quarterback, including starter Cody Kessler and reserve Charlie Whitehurst. Both Kessler (chest/rib) and Whitehurst (left knee) were knocked out of the game by the Patriots’ defense.
Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount capped off an eight-play, 80-yard opening drive with a one-yard touchdown run. Blount’s scoring run gave the Patriots a 7-0 lead over the Browns with 10:23 to play in the first quarter.
Brady completed four of his first five pass attempts of the season for 65 yards, and distributed the ball to his top three targets, Gronkowski and Bennett and wide receiver Julian Edelman.
Gronkowski turned his two catches into 53 yards, including a 34-yarder that moved the ball down to the Cleveland two-yard line after running around, past and through a handful of Browns defenders. Edelman hauled in a 10-yard reception on the opening drive.
Down by seven points after the Patriots marched down the field for a touchdown, the Browns had an answer with their own trip into the end zone on the ensuing possession.
Kessler led a nine-play, 75-yard drive, and capped it off with an 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, which drew them even with the Patriots, 7-7, with 6:09 to play in the first quarter.
On first-and-10 from the Patriots’ 11-yard line, Kessler surveyed the field and found Hawkins breaking free into the end zone on the left side of the field. Hawkins got away from the coverage and gave Kessler a big window to throw into.
Hawkins secured the catch and got two feet down in bounds for the game-tying score.
Brady has guided the Patriots down the field for touchdowns on each of their first two possessions and capped off the second scoring drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Bennett. Brady’s first touchdown pass of the season gave New England a 14-7 lead over the Browns with 2:06 to play in the first quarter.
Just as he did on the first possession, Brady went four for five on the second touchdown drive and threw for 64 yards, including nine and 12-yard passes to Edelman. Brady added a 36-yard pass to running back James White that moved the ball down to Cleveland’s nine-yard line.
On the touchdown play, Bennett lined up next to the tackle on the right side of the formation and after an initial block, he leaked out to the flat while the wide receivers drew coverage from the secondary into the end zone. Bennett secured the catch and walked into the end zone after coming up with an ankle injury on the first drive of the game.
The Patriots’ defense brought a heavy rush against Kessler early in the third defensive drive of the game, and it resulted in a safety that built their lead to 16-7 with 1:20 to play in the first quarter.
Facing a second-and-12 from the 10-yard line after a loss of two yards on first down following a short kickoff return from rookie defensive Tracy Howard, Kessler fumbled the ball at the four and it went out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
Following the play, Kessler was slow to get up and needed help from his left guard, Joel Bitonio, to get back to his feet. Then, after heading to the locker room, Kessler was ruled out for the remainder of the game because of chest/rib injuries.
Just as he did on the second drive, Brady went to Bennett with a pass on third down, and it resulted in a touchdown, which gave the visiting Patriots a 23-7 lead over the Browns with 12:10 to play in the first half.
The big play of the drive came when Brady found Hogan streaking down the left side of the field for a 43-yard gain. That reception moved the ball from midfield to the Browns’ seven-yard line. Three plays later, the Patriots found the end zone for the third time in the half.
Brady went back to Bennett on the Patriots’ first drive of the second half, and the result was a 37-yard score that gave New England a 30-7 lead over the Browns with 12:24 to play in the third quarter.
On first-and-10 from the Browns’ 37-yard line, Brady used a play-action fake to attract the attention of the defense, and Bennett released off of the line of scrimmage to get behind the secondary. Bennett hauled in the pass at the 17-yard line, sprinted his down the right sideline and dove through a tackle attempt from safety Jordan Poyer to break the plane of the end zone.