The pandemic reared its ugly head on the Browns this week against the Raiders. At first, Cleveland was perceived as the favorite. The Raiders are a team they can beat.
Every game from this point on could mean the difference between getting into the playoffs or watching those games on big screen at home.
Cleveland went into this game with eight starters out. Ouch. But the “next man up” mentality is a real thing, and this game was proof of that. In a contest that played more like a playoff game instead of a regular season outing was evident. What was interesting is that if the Browns won, they would be in first place in the division whereas a loss positions them last.
The game was tight, but a David Njoku touchdown reversal plus a missed field goal ultimately became the difference maker as Cleveland lost 16-14 on the final play. In a span of 54 seconds, the Browns went from division leaders to basement dwellers.
So who played well for the Browns? Who didn’t?
RG Wyatt Teller - For most of the contest, QB Nick Mullens in his debut for the Browns was harassed by a number of defensive players. Except DT Quinton Jefferson. That is because guard Wyatt Teller was blocking him. Jefferson had little impact on his pass rush and just a single tackle in the first half alone with a game total of two. Teller returned from COVID at the right time. It was Teller who shoved his man then went into the second level on David Njoku’s 13-yard gain after the third quarter fumble recovery.
P Dustin Colquitt - When your punter is called on seven times because the offense cannot move the ball, most likely he is going to get noticed. Shanked his last punt when one deeper was needed, but an overall decent game. Two kicks dropped inside the 20, long of 51 and an average of 44.7.
LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah - Caused the much-needed fumble and had a half sack, was active in stunts and finished with five total tackles.
Defense - Joe Woods had his work cut out for him and this unit played its heart out. Even though the Raiders had a 10-0 lead at the half, the defense had a very good first half. Caused four fumbles on the day and recovered one. Put good pressure on QB Derek Carr with Sheldon Day, Myles Garrett and Joe Jackson. Porter Gustin recovered a key fumble. John Johnson had his moments and Greedy Williams broke up two key third down pass plays. When your opponent only scores 7, 3, 0 and 6 points per quarter and keep the game within one score into the fourth quarter, it is a good day. It was Garrett’s paw which was in Carr’s face on the interception late in the game. Williams played the pick just like a receiver. Carr had just 236 passing yards while the Raiders managed just 98 yards on the ground.
Leftside offensive line - With LG Joel Bitonio shifted out to left tackle, Michael Dunn moved into his spot. Both players shined. This tandem finally gave RB Nick Chubb some open lanes including the 24-yarder with six minutes to go in the third quarter and then the touchdown which went right into this duo’s now-open gap. With 10 minutes to play, Chubb scooted through another good hole only to have a shoestring tackle bring him down in a play which looked like he was headed to the house. QB Nick Mullens wasn’t sacked all game.
RB Nick Chubb - Mr. Dependable had just 14 first half yards, but the halftime adjustments saw weaknesses on the Raiders’ right defensive front and was attacked. Had six carries for 14 yards in the first half and finished with 23 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown.
CB M.J. Stewart - The career backup was very busy in this game. With 4:15 before halftime, his loose coverage of receiving ace Hunter Renfrow enabled yet another Raiders first down. In the first quarter facing a third-and-five inside their own 10, a desperation pass by Las Vegas QB Derek Carr ended up as a sizable gain of 46-yards on the pass interference call by Stewart on his coverage of Zay Jones. Yet another third down conversion happened in front of Stewart early in the second quarter. He did cause a fumble which was recovered by Renfrow. Was embarrassed by the juke move of TE Foster Moreau midway through the third quarter on a swing pass. It was Stewart trailing WR Jones who caught the 15-yard pass to put the Raiders at the 30 instead of the 45 with seconds remaining which gave K Daniel Carlson the opportunity to win the game.
Lack of offense (first half) - The 72 passing yards weren’t that bad, but 12 rushing yards on seven attempts against the league’s 28th ranked rushing defense reeked. Zero turnovers was the only bright spot that saw numerous passes dropped, the Raiders’ defensive line in the offensive backfield frequently, and no rhythm or production whatsoever. First half drives: punt, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal. Nine plays, seven plays, four plays, four plays finished with 11 plays. 1 for 5 on third down conversions. How many times on third down did the receiver go only so far of needed yardage only to be dropped short? If you need six yards, why don’t you run a seven-yard route? Anyone?
Reserve/COVID lists - For the second year in a row, the pandemic affected the NFL season. For much of the 2021 campaign, the disease was mostly a non-factor with a guy out here and there on various clubs. But it reared its ugly head for Week 15 - a weekend that had become critical to Cleveland’s post-season hopes. The Los Angeles Rams and Washington each had 19 players out, but at its height, the Browns led all teams with 20 guys affected including head coach Kevin Stefanski. The NFL did Cleveland a solid by moving the game from Saturday to Monday, but Raiders owner Mark Davis wasn’t happy about the maneuver and offered to relocate the contest to supposedly sterile Las Vegas where his team had zero players out. The only thing Davis didn’t offer was to bench an equal amount of starters.
K Chase McLaughlin - The offense finally got into a groove and drove down the field right before the half and had an opportunity to get on the board, only to have McLaughlin miss a standard 47-yard field goal. He has now missed a kick in four games straight and is six for his last 11. At the end of the game with zero time outs left, Las Vegas would have been down 17-13 and forced to go for the touchdown from the Browns’ 30 instead of kicking an easy 48-yard field goal.
Milk Bones – when you miss slamming down the phone on somebody
QB Nick Mullens - Nothing spectacular, but Mullens did his best to drive the offense. Had numerous pocket collapses to which he was able to escape and find a receiver downfield. The scramble with four minutes to go and finding Harrison Bryant was a remarkable football move as it froze the defenders to deal with him on as a runner and leave their man open. Finished with 20 completions on 30 attempts for 147 yards and one touchdown.
Special Teams - What a roller coaster. Punt coverage again turns in a dominant effort with tackling by Elijah Lee, Takitaki, and Richard LeCounte. The McLaughlin missed field goal was a back breaker late in the game and ultimately cost them the win. The Raiders’ fake punt to up-man Dallin Leavitt was hard to swallow, but became a sack-fumble shortly thereafter so no harm done. Was Colquitt was the offensive MVP?
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones - Twice in the first half while the offense was sputtering badly, DPJ had two clutch passes hit him in both hands only to lose control. The most obvious drop was when the network showed the replay over-and-over that would have given the Browns a first down inside the 15 in the first quarter. In the following stanza, QB Nick Mullens scrambled out of trouble and spotted DPJ on a continuation of his crossing pattern. After clutching with both hands, he dropped the sure first down. Had two important catches in the fourth quarter.
DT Sheldon Day - The big man was all-out this game and had very good pressure throughout the game including the fourth quarter when a lot of guys are spent. Finished with seven total tackles plus a half sack.
LB Sione Takitaki - In the first half Takitaki was on a mission with four tackles and one tackle for loss. Finished with six tackles and one tackle for loss while a beast on punt coverage.
S Jovante Moffatt - Saved a touchdown with less than a minute to play in the first half when Raiders QB Carr scrambled out of the pocket to a wide open field. That is, until he approached Moffatt who had a bead on the runner and nailed him at the five on the third-and-goal play. The end result was a Las Vegas field goal instead of a touchdown. Nick stick. Finished with seven tackles.
What was your initial reaction when the game winning field goal went through?
This poll is closed
Yelled and/or screamed and/or cussed
Went into a funk
Destroyed something Browns related
Said out loud, "Same ole Browns!"