GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Browns had a chance to pull off a Christmas Miracle at Lambeau Field on Saturday night as they took on the Green Bay Packers, but three factors on the final drive ended in a blue Christmas for Cleveland as they lost 24-22.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield returned from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday morning after spending 10 days away from the team. He flew to Green Bay separately on Saturday morning and made it to the field with time for a walk-through and conversations with head coach Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.
Mayfield had been involved in the virtual meetings throughout the week, but the online preparation didn't pay off.
Throwing 21-for-36, Mayfield passed for 222 yards and two touchdowns—but it was the turnovers that proved too much to overcome.
Mayfield had four interceptions, the first coming on the second drive, killing the momentum after a nearly perfect drive down the field into the end zone. Some off-balance throws, short balls and sails ended up in the hands of Packers defenders.
"I don't think it was anything preparation-wise, mentally, it was just missed throws. Uncharacteristic," Mayfield said after the game. "I hurt our team."
"With Baker, I know he had four interceptions, but we win as a team, we lose as a team," Stefanski said. He also said that regardless of what some fans are calling for, Mayfield will remain their starter moving forward.
"He's our starting quarterback, yes," Stefanski said.
Blaming the refs is a futile thing, but on Saturday, a missed defensive pass interference call had a heavy hand in the outcome of the final drive.
With 50 seconds left on the clock and the Browns looking to get into field goal range down just two points, two incomplete passes left the Browns facing a 3rd-and-10 situation on the 50-yard line.
Mayfield threw a pass intended for wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, but the play resulted in his fourth interception and sealed a win for the Packers.
But on the play, Peoples-Jones was being held by Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas, who picked off the pass. It seemed to be a clear defensive pass interference, but the refs held their flags.
"I do think there was some holding and tugging, I understand refs aren't going to get every call, but in big moments like that, it's tough," Stefanski said.
The missed call was brutal, but there was another factor that hurt the Browns maybe just as much.
Failure to run
On Saturday, the Browns run game was on fire when it was being used.
Nick Chubb carried the ball 17 times for 126 yards and a touchdown. Between Chubb, D'Ernest Johnson, Anthony Schwartz and Mayfield's keepers, the Browns averaged 8.76 yards per carry throughout the game.
But on the final drive, after Chubb had moved the chains twice, he was sidelined, and the Browns shifted to the passing game. That resulted in two incomplete passes and the final interception.
Sure, Chubb is a human and needs a rest from time to time. But with all three timeouts left on the clock, perhaps he could have gotten a break and had a chance to get involved in another play.
Or maybe they could have given Johnson, who was the game captain, a chance with the ball on the ground to drain some clock while pushing into field goal range. Instead, he was passed to.
Straying away from the strength of the offense in the most crucial moment proved to be the third factor in the Browns final drive failure.
The Browns are now scoreboard watchers as they await the results of divisional rival games that could make or break their postseason chances. Browns fans will keep their fingers crossed that fate can help the Browns more than they were able to help themselves in the final seconds of Saturday's game.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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