The Cleveland Browns responded to their 31-3 beatdown at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers by taking a 20-6 lead over the Seattle Seahawks by the beginning of the second quarter. But after that, Seattle outscored Cleveland 26-8, dropping the Browns to 2-4.
What should have been a blowout in Cleveland’s favor turned into a frustrating loss, for multiple reasons.
The Browns scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions. Nick Chubb was running well (as usual), and Baker Mayfield looked decisive and comfortable in the pocket. But things started to unravel on the team’s first drive of the second quarter. Odell Beckham Jr. dropped a third-down pass that would have moved the chains, one of his two drops on the afternoon. Jamie Gillan‘s punt was blocked, and although Cleveland’s defense held the Seahawks to a field goal, the damage was done.
On the next drive, Mayfield threw a quick slant to Beckham. The problem was that the defender covering Chubb ran into Beckham, knocking him off his route and creating an easy interception for Tre Flowers. Because the contact occurred within five yards of the line of scrimmage, there was no penalty. Just an unlucky play for Mayfield, and unfortunately, his luck would not improve.
After forcing a Seattle punt, Cleveland started their next drive at their own 20 , and moved the ball to Seattle’s 10 in eight plays. On second down, Mayfield tried to force a pass to Jarvis Landry in the end zone. There were three defenders around Landry, but there was a window. Mayfield’s pass was just enough behind Landry to where it was tipped twice into the waiting arms of Tedric Thompson. Of Mayfield’s three picks, this is the one he was most responsible for.
Seattle scored a touchdown off of that turnover, and went to the half down two points after failing to convert the two-point try. The Cleveland defense forced a three-and-out on the Seahawks first drive of the third quarter, and while the Browns next possession wasn’t as smooth as others, they were moving the ball. But on 2nd and 20 at Seattle’s 39, Nick Chubb fumbled a screen pass, and Ezekiel Ansah recovered. It was the first fumble of Chubb’s pro career, and his first since 2016.
The Seahawks capitalized, scoring a touchdown to take a 25-20 lead. After the Browns’ next drive stalled, Olivier Vernon forced a fumble, and the momentum shifted back in Cleveland’s favor. But a very odd drive followed. The Browns ended up turning the ball over on downs inside the three yard line after head coach Freddie Kitchens challenged a Jarvis Landry fumble (this would come into play later on). The call was upheld, and Chubb was stopped short of the goal line on the next play.
The defense responded, forcing another punt, which was shanked to just the Seahawks’ 24. Two plays and a two-point conversion later, and Cleveland had a 28-25 lead with nine minutes to go. A five-and-a-half-minute drive gave the Seahawks a 32-28 lead, but the Browns had plenty of time for a game-winning drive. A holding penalty backed the offense up to 2nd and 15, and then disaster struck.
Mayfield targeted running back Darius Hilliard, who let the ball go right through his hands and into the arms of linebacker K.J. Wright. The pass was behind Hilliard, but it still should have been caught. A devastating blow to the Browns, but the game wasn’t over yet. Even though the Seahawks were starting their drive at the Cleveland 26, the Browns still had two timeouts and the two-minute warning to work with.
And the defense did its job, forcing Seattle into a third-and-seven. Wilson threw a sideline pass to D.K. Metcalf, who hauled it in, but T.J. Carrie ripped the ball out as Metcalf was going down out of bounds. However, the official ruled it a completed pass, and as the Browns were out of challenges and the play didn’t occur within the last two minutes, there was nothing Cleveland could do.
It was ironic that a game riddled with inexplicable officiating mistakes was effectively ended by one, with the team affected unable to do anything. A phantom pass interference call on Carrie that led to a touchdown. An illegal blindside block on Landry when the defender initiated the contact that led to a punt. The referees certainly harmed the Browns, but that’s not an excuse for the way the team played.
Of the nine penalties Cleveland committed, we’ll say six were legitimate. That’s a big improvement over the first part of the season, but it seemed like they always came at the worst times, either backing the team up on an early down, or wiping out a big conversion on a later one. The turnovers and drops are simply unacceptable. You cannot give the ball away four times to a team with a QB as good as Russell Wilson and expect to win.
Mayfield isn’t blameless here either. He played much better than he had been this season, even with the three picks. They were all catchable, as were the passes his receivers dropped. But that doesn’t mean they were good throws. On the throw to Hilliard and the targets that Beckham dropped, Mayfield placed the ball slightly behind his man. This forces the receiver to reach back, against his momentum, for the ball, which turns a routine catch into a more difficult one. The ball still hit their hands, which means it should have been caught, but Mayfield’s ball placement has to be better. It was so good in 2018, but has been off thus far in 2019.
Mayfield has now thrown 11 interceptions in six games, which is an alarming number. But it’s not as bad as it looks.
Worst QB Turnover luck (amount of INTs versus Turnover worthy passes)
1. Baker Mayfield (+5)
2. Russell Wilson (+1)
3. Jimmy G (+1)
No one else with more INTs than TWP.
— Andre Weingarten (@Moonlightswami) October 13, 2019
He’s not been as accurate as usual, but he’s also been incredibly unlucky. Five more picks than turnover-worthy throws is a ridiculous number, and Mayfield’s INTs should decrease with regression to the mean. At least, that’s what should happen.
As infuriating a loss as this was, there are positives to take away from it, unlike the Monday Night debacle:
- Ricky Seals-Jones looks like a very good receiving weapon at tight end, and is gradually earning more snaps and doing more with them.
- The offensive line protected Mayfield, giving up zero sacks or official QB hits, albeit against a rather weak defensive line.
- The Cleveland defense generated solid pressure on Wilson, finishing with three sacks and six QB hits, while Myles Garrett tied the NFL lead for sacks with his eighth and ninth on the season.
- Mayfield left the pocket much less than he had been in past games, and when he did, he made good decisions with the ball, and most importantly, good throws. He showed a willingness to take off and run with the ball, even after getting injured.
The Browns now enter the bye week, and will have two weeks to prepare for the New England Patriots, clearly the best all-around team in the league. Starting corners Greedy Williams and Denzel Ward should finally be back, and hopefully the offense will have gotten on the same page and reduced the amount of miscues. It will be a long two weeks until Cleveland’s next game, not because of how well they’ve played to this point, but because we know what they’re capable of doing in the future.