CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Browns lost to the Jets on Sunday, 23-16. But that’s just what the scoreboard said.
Here are the real winners and losers:
LOSER: Categorizing this game
The Browns didn’t lose to the Jets because they were without Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge and B.J. Goodson and Jacob Phillips and Jedrick Wills. They didn’t lose because they were down to rookie Nick Harris, their third-string right guard. They didn’t lose because Wyatt Teller and Ronnie Harrison weren’t ready to return from injury.
They lost because they made too many mistakes.
That’s what Kevin Stefanski and Baker Mayfield talked about after the game. Despite learning that so many players had landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday, they both said they had confidence in the players that were available. I guess if you’re going to live by the next-man-up mantra, you’ve gotta lean into it.
Besides, they have a point, don’t they? Mayfield lost two fumbles. The Browns missed an extra point. The offense was 6-of-15 on third down. The defense made many of the same mistakes the defense has made all season.
Should Stefanski be expected to whip up a new game plan that’s all about his running backs and tight ends in less than 24 hours, when the only practice he’s going to get is a frigid walk-through in a parking garage five hours before kickoff?
Should the Browns really be expected to win a game with three undrafted receivers, two of which only recently arrived in Cleveland? Should the defense be expected to play any better without its best tackler?
I mean, it was the Jets, right?
LOSER: Ball security
Baker Mayfield had five fumbles through 14 games. That’s less than half the league leaders among non-running backs. Sunday’s three fumbles should push him from 19th well into the top 10.
The Browns lost two of those fumbles to the Jets. One came on the Browns’ final offense play. It was similar to Mayfield’s fumble two weeks ago against the Titans. The Browns faced fourth-and-1 and called a quarterback sneak.
Against the Titans, Mayfield had the yards for the first down but fumbled, and it was recovered by the Titans. The Browns still won, but it made the final minute more tense than it should’ve been.
Against the Jets, Mayfield’s fumble basically ended the game.
With the loss of possession, 1:18 left to play and only one timeout, the Browns were done.
It was the right call, though. If there’s one trend that has held this season, it’s that the Browns struggle to run the ball on third- or fourth-and-short. Unless they sneak it.
Prior to Sunday the Browns were 2 of 8 converting fourth-and-2 or less when running the ball. Mayfield was 2-of-3 sneaking, though, or 3-of-3 if you want to give him the yardage vs. the Titans.
Against the Jets, he converted two sneaks prior to the fumble.
But trends and probabilities only hold up if you execute.
WINNER: Fans who want a Browns-Steelers game to mean something
Browns. Steelers. FirstEnergy Stadium. Week 17.
“As I understand it, next week, you win and you are in,” Stefanski said Sunday.
The Browns’ loss ended their chance to win the AFC North. But the Steelers still need to fight off the Bills for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, so don’t expect them to rest starters.
That makes Sunday’s Browns-Steelers game the first truly meaningful game in the rivalry since Jan. 5, 2003. That was the Browns’ 36-33 Wild Card loss to the Steelers, aka the last time the Browns were in the playoffs.
LOSER: Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt
Chubb’s second consecutive 1,000-yard season will have to wait until next week to become official. He needed 69 yards against the Jets to hit the mark. He got 28.
But any hope of Chubb and Hunt each topping 1,000 yards this season and joining Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner on the exclusive list, is all but lost.
Hunt needed a monster game against the Jets to get back on track, needing 207 yards over his final two games to reach 1,000. That was a huge longshot for a guy who only got his first and only 100-yard rushing game with the Browns back in Week 10.
Hunt managed only 11 yards against the Jets.
With all the last-minute shakeup for the Browns’ offense, the game seemed to have potential to showcase Hunt’s versatility. His ability to run and catch and create coverage mismatches would surely help alleviate the lack of experience at wide receiver.
But that never materialized. Hunt did have a big 24-yard gain on a screen pass in the fourth quarter and scored a touchdown. But he finished the game with only seven touches and 52 yards from scrimmage.
WINNER: Sheldon Richardson
Richardson’s blocked field goal late in the third quarter seemed to be the spark that ignited the Browns. The Browns scored their touchdowns on two straight drives after that and got back into the game.
It was another highlight moment for Richardson, who is playing his best down the stretch of the season. He finished Sunday with a season-high 10 tackles.
Three weeks ago, his forced fumble helped the Browns race out to an early lead on the Titans. He had a sack against the Ravens. He almost had another sack against the Jets, but Myles Garrett beat him there.
LOSER: Follow-up questions
Mayfield took one question before leaving his press conference following Sunday’s game. He was asked about going through the previous 24 hours and all that entailed.
His response was 400 words. He touched on almost everything he would’ve been asked had he allowed any follow ups before walking off.
Mayfield: “It is pretty much 2020 all in 24 hours. This is what happens, and you have to adapt and change. It is not an excuse. I am just going to go ahead and answer all of the questions right now. None of this, there is no excuse. Yeah, it sucks that we did not have our guys, but we believe in the guys we have in this locker room, no matter who it is. That is why they are here. That is why they are Cleveland Browns. That is why they were brought here. We suited them [up]. We believe in them, and I told every single one of those guys that. There is no excuse. Plain and simple, I failed this team. I put three balls on the ground – two of them they recovered and the other on the fourth down, I just need to hold onto the damn ball. Plain and simple, I have to hold onto the damn ball. I failed this team. We had exactly what we needed to win this game, and I did not do good enough. That is it. I am proud of these guys being able to step up. These guys did not even think they were going to play. For anybody to criticize them, shame on you. Put it on me for not doing my job, for not playing at a high level like I should have and for not getting these guys going and finishing out this game. I have to hold onto the ball during a QB sneak. Obviously, (RB) Kareem (Hunt) was in the right place at the right time, grabbed the ball and tried to advance it, but you can’t advance a fumble under two minutes in the fourth quarter so it is what it is. This one is on me. Here is the thing, this one is going to sting for a day or two, but we have the Steelers to win and get in. Yes, I am aware of what could have happened if we would have won today. I am well aware of that, but it is what it is. I am going to have to roll with these punches. Backs against the wall, and we have to win to get in. This group fought today, but I did not do enough and play well enough for us to win, and that is it.”
There’s nothing more to say.
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