CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns have more promise than they've had in decades, complete with some talk about Super Bowl contention. And while their strong showing against the Kansas City Chiefs showed this team is capable of being the real deal, there's one thing that could hinder success.
Sunday was a reminder of just how quickly a season can change due to injuries after both the Browns and the opposing Houston Texans suffered a rash of them.
During the opening drive of Sunday's win, quarterback Baker Mayfield found wide receiver Jarvis Landry for nine yards, but after the play, Landry limped off the field. After being evaluated, the team ruled Landry as questionable to return with a knee injury. In the third quarter officially ruled him out for the remainder of the game.
MRI results from Monday morning tests showed Landry sustained an MCL sprain and it was announced he is "week to week."
With Odell Beckham Jr. still working towards his return following knee surgery this offseason to repair a torn ACL, losing Landry for any amount of time is less than ideal.
The Browns have depth at receiver, with Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and rookie Anthony Schwartz at their disposable, as well as the versatile Demetric Felton and any of the talented players on the practice squad. But missing your top two receivers changes the game.
There was another moment in the game that truly showed the unpredictable nature of the NFL when Mayfield himself went down, appearing to be significantly hurt in the second quarter of the game.
Mayfield was attempting to throw to Schwartz, who appeared to stop his route prematurely, allowing the Texans to intercept the ball. While trying to make a tackle, Mayfield appeared to injure his shoulder and was down on the field before trainers ran out to evaluate him. Mayfield headed into the medical tent and then went back to the locker room.
Thankfully, for the Browns, Mayfield, who said his shoulder "popped in and out," ran back from the locker room to the sideline shortly after his departure from the field, putting his helmet on and prepping to go back into the game, never missing a play.
Had that gone differently, however, the Browns would have had a significant question to answer as they would have had to rely on Case Keenum for however long Mayfield would have been sidelined.
That moment, nearly losing the franchise quarterback in just the second game of the season, made clear the biggest concern for the Browns.
Brief moments of worry fluttered around FirstEnergy Stadium at other points in the game for the Browns when linebacker Malcolm Smith and defensive tackle Malik McDowell went down. They returned to the game, but Smith's injury scare served as an unwelcome reminder that the Browns have already lost too many linebackers for comfort with Jacob Phillips, Anthony Walker and Michael Dunn all sidelined with injury—and McDowell's scare reminded us just how quickly a great performance can be cut short.
Even seeing the impact that Grant Delpit had in his NFL debut after missing his first 17 games with Achilles and hamstring injuries, served as another reminder of how much one player's loss can hinder a team.
While the Browns had their own injury concerns Sunday, the Texans had even worse luck. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor left the game with a hamstring injury, safety Justin Reid left with a knee injury, rookie wide receiver Nico Collins left with a shoulder injury, tight end Antony Auclair left with an eye injury, wide receiver Danny Amendola left with a hamstring injury and cornerback Terrance Mitchell and safety Eric Murray both were evaluated for concussions.
Players seemed to be dropping like flies Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium, but the injury bug didn't just run rampant in Cleveland—it was a league-wide epidemic.
Bears quarterback Andy Dalton suffered a knee injury that took him out of the game, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was carted off the field with a rib injury, Colts quarterback Carson Wentz sustained an ankle injury, and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had a scare of an ankle injury. And those are just the starting quarterbacks who were injured Sunday.
The Browns have already had their fair share of injuries early into the season, from Phillips and Walker to Landry and even left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. who is working through an ankle injury from Week 1. But that's the thing about injuries in the NFL—they're never fair.
Year in and year out for Cleveland, the challenge has been finding talent to add to the roster. Now that they have it, the challenge will be to keep that talent on the field.
No one can predict injuries. It's one of the more uncontrollable factors in the NFL. But the Browns' conditioning coaches and training staff will likely step up their work as the weeks go on and do everything in their power to avoid the one thing the Browns can't afford this season.
Luckily for the Browns, they've found a smart and thorough head coach and general manager in Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry, who have shown they're more than capable of rolling with the punches and addressing situations like major injuries in a way that leaves the team, and fans, confident in their decisions.
"Injuries—nobody likes them, they're awful. I don't care if it's your team or the other team. You never want to see that ever. But also, it's part of our game. This is a very physical game," Stefanski said. "Guys have to step up. That's the nature of this thing.
"That's just the nature of the NFL. That's why you talk about depth being so important because you could be in your depth early," Stefanski said. "That's kind of how it works in the NFL."
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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