CLEVELAND — Resiliency has defined the Cleveland Browns this season.
They’ve fought through season-ending injuries, COVID-19, and on Monday night they fought back and kept themselves in the game against the Baltimore Ravens, giving fans a glimpse of what they’re capable of in the playoffs, should they make it there.
Yes, they lost Monday and, yes, it was a heartbreaker.
But the Browns did something they haven’t been able to do in some time—they battled back and made what could have been a blowout one of the most competitive, hard-fought games the league has seen this season.
The Browns went into the half down a score and quickly fell behind by another touchdown thanks to a 44-yard run by Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
In years past, that would have likely been the ball game.
That is no longer the case.
The Browns kept it within two scores through the third quarter and closed the gap early in the fourth with a touchdown and two-point conversion, which is where the Browns began to shine.
Another touchdown and an extra point gave the Browns a one-point lead with just over six minutes left in the game.
Driving home the point that these are not the “same old Browns,” when the Ravens answered back with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Jackson (who had just returned to the field after missing the entire third quarter with cramps) and a successful two-point conversion, Cleveland’s resiliency showed up once again.
With just under two minutes to go, Baker Mayfield drove the Browns down the field with a few big passes to Donovan Peoples-Jones and Kareem Hunt, tying things up.
The game ultimately came down to a field goal, and the Ravens have one of the league's best kickers in Justin Tucker, who sealed the Browns' fate with a successful 55-yard attempt.
What went wrong
The Browns lost by five points, but it should have only been three (not counting the safety that was a result of the last play of the game when the Browns tried to keep their final play alive.)
Browns kicker Cody Parkey missed a 39-yard field goal attempt and an extra point, leaving four points off the board. Save for the safety, those four points could have flipped the game.
Wind was not much of a factor, as head coach Kevin Stefanski said Monday night.
“I do not think wind was a factor. Cody is healthy. I think he is fine. He missed a couple, and he has not done that all year, so I do not expect that to carry over. He knows he has to make them,” Stefanski said.
While those points would have been great for the Browns, the loss doesn’t fall on entirely on Parkey. The Browns' defense showed its flaws once again.
From an embarrassing defensive pass interference penalty on M.J. Stewart on 3rd-and-7 that set the Ravens up with great field position and allowed them to score early, to Jackson and the Ravens gashing the Browns and their lackluster linebacking corps, the Browns defense failed.
In their defense, though injuries have depleted the secondary unit, and Monday night’s game might have looked much different with one Denzel Ward in the game. But as the team has preached all season, it comes down to “next man up.”
General manager Andrew Berry will eventually need to find a way to bolster the defense with some fresh talent at linebacker and safety for the Browns to take it to the next level, but, for now, they’ll have to look to correct those mistakes.
Stefanski said of Jackson’s drive down the field to take a late lead in the fourth quarter: “We blitzed. [Lamar Jackson] made a play. Not exactly sure what happened on that play. We will look at it and get to the bottom of it, but he should not be able to escape the pocket like that. Disappointing. Those are the mistakes that we have to clean up."
Sloppy officiating didn't help either, from a very questionable intentional grounding call on Mayfield to missing that the Ravens had 15 players on the field (yes, you read that number right), the refs struggled. But that's a story for another time.
What went right
The short answer is: a lot.
Mayfield impressed once again. With 343 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown of his own, Mayfield showed he can play with the best of them.
Although he threw his first interception in five games and 187 passes, Mayfield bounced back and kept the team in the game through the very last seconds.
Mayfield became the first Brown to ever reach 10,000 career passing yards in his first three years. He reached 2,500 passing yards for the third consecutive year, the first Browns quarterback to do it since Bernie Kosar (1989-91.)
Since Week 7, Mayfield is one of just four quarterbacks in the NFL with a quarterback rating above 70.5, according to ESPN’s Jake Trotter. The others? Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady. That’s some pretty good company.
The 4 QBs with a QBR above 70.5 since Week 7 (Oct. 25):— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) December 15, 2020
* Aaron Rodgers (84.2)
* Patrick Mahomes (83.7)
* Tom Brady (74.8)
* Baker Mayfield (74.4)
Despite the loss, on Monday night it became clear that Mayfield is the guy the Browns have been looking for—a talented leader who can take Cleveland where it wants to be and compete with high-caliber teams.
“He is a winner. He wants to win and is a hard worker. I like a guy like that on my team. Baker is doing a great job of leading us and finding ways to keep us in the ball game,” said running back Kareem Hunt.
Although they didn’t get a lot of use early in the game, once again the Browns showed what a threat it is to have Nick Chubb and Hunt in the backfield. Chubb and Hunt combined for 115 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The two had 98 receiving yards and a touchdown. They’ve accounted for 19 scrimmage touchdowns this season, the second-most of all running back units in the league.
Also, it should be noted that the entire Browns defense didn’t drop the ball Monday night. Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson continued to impress. Vernon sacked Jackson twice Monday night, recording at least two sacks in three games this season, as well as two QB hits and a pass defended. Richardson had a sack of his own and a QB hit. Sione Takitaki also took down Jackson during the game.
Yes, the Browns lost Monday. But they did something we haven’t seen in some time.
They stepped up to the challenge of playing a playoff-caliber team under prime-time lights and gave the world a good, hard look at what the Browns are capable of in what may be the game of the year.
With no time to lick their wounds, the Browns will start preparing for yet another prime-time match-up against the New York Giants Sunday night.
“The message in the locker room after the game was win as a team, lose as a team. We fought. We just have to be better. Here is the thing, we have a short week to where we have to be focused. We have to come out there on Sunday to get that taste out of our mouths and move forward. That is the most important part,” Mayfield said.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.