1. If fullback James Develin keeps making catches like he did up the right sideline -- a 31-yard gain with outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo in coverage (11:47 remaining) -- he’ll be a bigger part of the plans of how the team moves forward without tight end Rob Gronkowski. Develin initially lined up in the offensive backfield, motioned out to the right, before running an out-and-up route on the right sideline in which he fought through an initial jam. Develin looked like he was banged up, in some form, on the play and was looked at by the medical staff immediately after. But he later returned to the game.
2. We’ve seen several plays this season where the Patriots pull their guards to create play-action, and the results have been mixed. One of the downers came with 10:53 remaining in the second quarter when left guard Logan Mankins had a tough block coming from left to right on Mingo, and couldn’t get enough of him as Brady was sacked. That play ultimately set up a third-and-18 and led to a punt.
3. This was one of defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich's better games, as there were notable plays in the pass rush (good outside move on Mitchell Schwartz in the first quarter) and against the run. In the latter category, some of Ninkovich’s best work came with 8:59 left in the quarter when he dropped fullback Chris Ogbonnaya for a 1-yard loss. Ninkovich showed solid control and discipline at the snap, read the handoff, disengaged from Schwartz, then knifed his body into the middle to make the strong tackle. Also on that play, Sealver Siliga's ability to hold his ground stood out again.
4. Overall, just not a very sure-handed performance. Almost every player was responsible for at least drop and some were easy catches. Rookie receiver Josh Boyce, for example, looked like he was thinking run-after-the-catch before he did the all-important catching part on a short pass (7:04 remaining).
5. Credit to the Browns for matching the Patriots when it came to situational football at the end of the second quarter, with Josh Gordon's scoop-it-off-the-turf third-down catch one of the underrated plays of the game for them. The Browns also avoided a turnover throughout the game, which is another big part of the potential winning formula when playing the Patriots.
6. The Patriots did something different on their kickoff return unit, aligning a smaller player (running back Shane Vereen) at the same level of the wedge (Develin and tight end Matthew Mulligan), as they sacrificed some size on the unit with returners Matthew Slater and Boyce back deep. On Dec. 1 in Houston, they had tight end D.J. Williams in that role and he could assume it again after re-signing this week.