The Cleveland Browns had it all in front of them Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The Steelers held up their end of the bargain by rallying to defeat the Indianapolis Colts.
But 2020 - and COVID-19 - were not done with the Browns just yet.
The Browns fell behind 20-3 early in the third quarter, rallied to within four points early in the fourth quarter, and had three offensive series to pull out the win.
It was not to be, however, leaving the Browns in a position where they need to shake off the disappointment and pull it together for a Week 17 meeting against the Steelers with a playoff berth still on the line.
Before we get there, let’s take a look at who did well against the Jets (spoiler alert: it is a short list), who struggled and what it means for the final weekend of the regular season.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson’s hands - It wasn’t the best of days for the special teams (more on that in a bit), but Richardson did his part by blocking an extra point after the Jets took a 13-3 lead in the second quarter, then blocking a field goal in the third quarter with the Browns trailing 20-3.
Those two plays helped make Cleveland’s final efforts to win the game possible.
Wide receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley’s second half - The Browns elevated Bradley, an undrafted rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette, to the active roster on Saturday after learning that wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge would all miss the game with COVID-19 related issues.
Bradley did his best to continue the trend of a different wide receiver stepping up each week, finishing the second half with four receptions for 54 yards. He would have had more if quarterback Baker Mayfield had not overthrown him on a shot down the left sideline.
Defensive end Myles Garrett bags a dozen - Garrett sacked New York quarterback Sam Darnold in the first half, giving Garrett a dozen sacks on the season. That is the fourth-best single-season total in franchise history, according to clevelandbrowns.com, and leaves Garrett just two sacks short of tying Reggie Camp’s official team record for sacks in a season.
Rushing touchdowns from running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt - It was a rough day for Chubb and Hunt, but they each added a touchdown run, so they do have that going for them, which is nice.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield’s fumbles - In addition to playing without their top four wide receivers, the Browns came into the game without starting right guard Wyatt Teller and lost starting left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. on Sunday morning due to an illness.
Those absences helped contribute to the Browns never being able to find a consistent rhythm on offense, and Mayfield did not help matters by losing three fumbles in the game.
It is difficult to come down too hard on Mayfield given that he met the starting wide receivers for the first time on Sunday morning (we kid, mostly), but after Cleveland scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 20-16, the next three offensive drives went:
- Four plays, 13 yards, punt
- Three plays, minus-two yards, lost fumble
- Eight plays, 44 yards, lost fumble/turnover on downs
To his credit, Mayfield took blame for his bad day rather than point out the obstacles the Browns faced, according to clevelandbrowns.com:
“I failed this team. I put three balls on the ground – two of them they recovered and the other on the fourth down. There is no excuse. We believe in the guys we have in this locker room, no matter who it is. That is why they are here. That is why they are Cleveland Browns. I didn’t do enough and play well enough for us to win, and that is it.”
The lack of a running game - With the Browns missing two offensive linemen and the Jets selling out to stop the run, it was a long day for running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Chubb (11 rushes for 28 yards with a long run of 16) and Hunt (four rushes for 11 yards with a long run of six yards) simply could not get anything going. There were extenuating circumstances, no doubt, but on a day when the Browns really needed to lean on the running game, Chubb and Hunt just could not get it going.
Cleveland’s wide receivers in the first half - The Browns played the game with a wide receiver trio of Ja’Marcus Bradley, Marvin Hall and Derrick Willies. They combined for one catch and six yards in the first half.
If all goes well this week, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge will all be cleared to return to practice on Thursday.
Please let them be cleared to return to practice on Thursday.
Tight end Austin Hooper - The Browns signed Hooper as a free agent in the offseason and expected big things out of him. Sunday appeared to be the time for Hooper to shine as he was the most high-profile player among Cleveland’s receiving group.
Baker Mayfield obviously thought so as well as he targeted Hooper a game-high 15 times, but Hooper responded with just seven receptions for 71 yards.
Offensive linemen Kendall Lamm and Nick Harris - It was a very long day for fill-in starters Lamm and Harris.
Lamm was beaten by Tarell Basham in the fourth quarter and Basham delivered a strip-sack on Baker Mayfield, with the Jets recovering the ball on Cleveland’s 17-yard line. That was the signature play of Lamm’s rough day.
A week after earning praise for stepping into the following an injury to Chris Hubbard, Harris had a rookie day by allowing a sack and being beaten on several plays, according to Pro Football Focus.
Cody Parkey goes doink - The Browns cut New York’s lead to 20-16 following a four-yard touchdown run from Kareem Hunt.
Cleveland was putting pressure on the Jets and were on the cusp of making it a one-score game when placekicker Cody Parkey hit the left upright with his extra-point attempt.
Parkey has been solid for most of the season, but his miss gave the Jets a little bit of breathing room, and comes on the heels of a missed extra point against the New York Giants, and a missed extra point and field goal against the Baltimore Ravens.
He can shake it off, but Parkey is picking a very inopportune time to go into a possible slump.
The pool area at team headquarters - The Browns lost four of their wide receivers, along with linebacker Jacob Phillips, for the game after it was determined they were high-risk, close contacts of linebacker B.J. Goodson, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday.
According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, those close contacts came when the players were around Goodson at the team’s recovery pool area at team headquarters in Berea.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water.
Milk Bones - standing in a long return line with a Yeti full of rum & Coke
Cleveland’s path to the playoffs - The Browns are now done to one game left in the regular season, a Week 17 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Sunday’s loss was a rough one, and while it kept the Browns from clinching a playoff spot, it did not derail Cleveland’s chances.
The Browns simply have to beat the Steelers next Sunday and they are in the playoffs. No help needed, no crazy scenarios, no scoreboard watching. Just win and literally nothing else will matter.
If you want to play around with all the ways the Browns can lose to the Steelers and still make the playoffs, have at it with this playoff simulator from The New York Times.
We could go on, but at this point nothing else matters but making the playoffs.
Can the Browns rebound from today’s loss to beat the Steelers and make the playoffs?
This poll is closed