In the NFL, any team can beat any other team on a given Sunday. However, when one club has playoff aspirations and another is mired in the muck of the NFL basement with the second-worst record in the league, we would presume the former would have little trouble with the latter.
However, that’s not how it went down in Week 12 as the Cleveland Browns barely escaped the clutches of the Jacksonville Jaguars in a 27-25 victory. The win was clinched by Cleveland’s defense thwarting a two-point conversion attempt by the Jaguars after they drew to within two points, courtesy of a James Robinson four-yard scamper into the end zone with two minutes and change left on the clock.
Cleveland guard Joel Bitonio put it all into perspective after the game:
It definitely was one where you see the grit of a team. You don’t get a practice all week really, the defense was really decimated with guys missing and we had one true practice on Friday and we had one of our farther travel games of the year.
All those things kind of added up. We knew we had to perform. … It just went down to the wire and was a little closer than we would like, but we found a way to pull it out and I think that’s what good teams in this league do — find ways to win.
But a win is a win and the Browns are now 8-3 after 11 games for the first time in 26 years. The silver lining in the narrow win over Jacksonville would be the Mayfield-to-Landry connection that accounted for eight receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown. That’s the kind of chemistry that could propel the Browns to a playoff spot and, perhaps, a Cinderella run in the postseason. Time will tell.
Tall Tasks Lie Ahead
For the first time in a long time, the Browns are in playoff contention and are loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball. Baker Mayfield has more weapons than a Swiss Army knife with one of the league’s most formidable backfield duos in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt coupled with Jarvis Landry and tight end Austin Hooper. Imagine if Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t go down with a season-ending injury?
Well, the next five games will tell the tale and the Browns will run the gauntlet starting with a game next week against AFC South powerhouse Tennessee, followed by a Monday night showdown with their divisional rivals from Baltimore, then two consecutive road trips to the Meadowlands where they will face the improving Giants and then get what should be their only relief in the form of the New York Jets.
Cleveland will wrap their season against the best team in football, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that thrashed them 38-7 in Week 6.
The lines for the Browns’ upcoming games show that Cleveland, despite its impressive 8-3 record, lacks their success against the spread, as they have covered in only four of their 11 games this year.
It seems when criticism is levied at the Browns, it is often directed at Baker Mayfield, but rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski believes the critics are too harsh and far off-base when it comes to his quarterback, “I want him to make every throw but there’s nobody who makes every throw… a 100% completion percentage, I don’t think it’s happened very often,” Stefanski said to NBC’s Cleveland affiliate, WKYC.
And while Mayfield is not putting up eye-popping numbers his emerging maturity is evidenced by only seven interceptions thrown this season, a pale comparison to the 21 picks he tossed in 2019.
Speaking of Stefanski, he is one of the leading candidates for Coach of the Year. Consider that he has lost OBJ and, perhaps, defensive wizard, Greedy Williams, for the season, compounded with injuries along the way to Myles Garret, Wyatt Teller, Jack Conklin, and Nick Chubb. Yet, the Browns keep keepin’ on and despite the fact that not all of their wins are impressive, they all count in the standings.
Right now, Cleveland is playoff-bound, but much could change over the next five weeks as they face as tough of a schedule as any to wrap the regular season. The Dawg Pound is crossing its collective fingers…and its paws.