Cleveland nearly pulled off a Christmas miracle, but the comeback fell short when Baker Mayfield was picked off for the fourth time of the game — even more painful when you see there was a clear hold on the receiver and the Browns could have been in position to win the game as time expired. Instead, they fall to 7-8 with two games left on the season, losing 24-22 on Christmas Day to the Packers. Let’s get to the full recap.
The Browns received the ball to begin the game and got off to a really hot start. After a 7-yard pass from QB Baker Mayfield to WR Jarvis Landry, Cleveland dialed up a screen pass to RB Nick Chubb, a play that went for 41 yards and had a personal foul penalty tacked on against the Packers. A few plays later, a 12-yard dart to Landry set the offense up with 1st-and-goal from the 1 yard line. Chubb punched it in on the following play for the touchdown to give the Browns a 6-0 lead. K Chris Naggar, playing for K Chase McLaughlin (COVID list), missed the extra point.
Cleveland’s defense forced what look to be a three-and-out, as the Packers faced 4th-and-1 from the 37 yard line. They went for it, though, showing some boldness early in the game and converted with a pitch to RB Aaron Jones for 4 yards and a first down. The defense held strong again after that, though, and this time on 3rd-and-5, the Packers brought out the punt unit.
The Browns would begin their next drive from the 8 yard line, due to an illegal block in the back penalty. On first down, Mayfield wanted to take a shot deep down the middle for WR Donovan Peoples-Jones. He was double covered, though, and the safety came away with the interception at the Packers’ 47 yard line. Upon replay, you could see that the Packers clearly committed a penalty on Peoples-Jones, though, and Mayfield saw that and thought he would get a free shot.
Rodgers got a picture perfect 33-yard pass to WR Davante Adams on the Packers’ next drive. Down in the red zone on 3rd-and-5 from the 11 yard line, Rodgers hit WR Allen Lazard on a quick out route. He dove for the pylon for the touchdown, and with K Mason Crosby hitting the extra point, the Packers took a 7-6 lead. The play also gave Rodgers the all-time passing touchdown record for the Packers, passing up QB Brett Favre.
The Browns got a 4th-and-1 situation on their next drive from their own 34 yard line, and this time it was head coach Kevin Stefanski’s to take a chance. Cleveland came out throwing, and Mayfield hit Peoples-Jones for a 5-yard completion to move the chains. Green Bay challenged the ruling, but there was no doubt that it was a catch, so the ruling on the field stood.
After the challenge, Cleveland got a big 27-yard run from Chubb to put them just outsize the red zone again. The next play saw the first successful reverse for WR Anthony Schwartz of the season, for 11 yards. Mayfield was dumped for a 9 yard sack on the next play, though, and his second down pass was incomplete to set up 3rd-and-19. Given the team’s kicking situation, that made the scenario all-the-more-challenging. Mayfield tried to hit Landry in the seam, but his throw sailed and was picked off, returned to the 22 yard line.
The Packers got another big play from Lazard, as he caught a pass 1-handed for 34 yards to the Browns’ 44 yard line. Green Bay continued moving the chains and then faced another third down red zone situation. On 3rd-and-goal from the 9 yard line, Cleveland opted to bring a blitz, which left Adams matched up one-on-one with S Richard LeCounte over the middle. Adams won that matchup easily, as Rodgers floated the ball to him for the wide open touchdown. That gave the Packers a 14-6 lead with 10:47 remaining in the second quarter.
Cleveland began the next drive well, with a 17-yard run by RB D’Ernest Johnson and then an 11-yard pass to TE Austin Hooper. Another big play followed, as Mayfield hit Landry for a catch-and-run of 24 yards.
After a 3-yard run by Johnson, Mayfield hit WR Rashard Higgins for a 14-yard strike to the 1 yard line. From the 1 yard line, Mayfield ran a playaction fake and found TE Harrison Bryant wide open for the touchdown to make it 14-12. Cleveland went for the two-point conversion, but the pass fell incomplete.
Cleveland’s defense came up with a big three-and-out stop, including a hit on Rodgers on his third down attempt. Cleveland took over after the punt at the 29 yard line with under five minutes remaining. After a couple of plays, Mayfield got a big completion to the 40 yard line to Higgins heading into the two-minute warning. After the break, though, Mayfield rolled out and was picked off by CB Rasil Douglas, as he was trying to hit Landry up the left sideline.
That gave the Packers the ball at midfield, and Rodgers kept throwing passes to Adams like clockwork, eventually getting the touchdown connection with 0:12 remaining in the half and a 21-12 lead for Green Bay. All three of Mayfield’s interceptions led to touchdowns for the Packers.
Cleveland was in need of a Christmas miracle for the second half, especially with Green Bay getting the ball first. But after a holding penalty on the kickoff, the defense didn’t start well, giving up a 27-yard run by RB Aaron Jones. Rodgers got the Packers into a third down situation in the red zone again, but this time, pressure came off the edge and his pass to the tight end in the end zone fell incomplete, with LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in coverage. K Mason Crosby came on for a 32-yard field goal attempt, which extended Green Bay’s lead to 24-12 with 9:12 remaining in the third quarter.
The Browns responded with a big drive, utilizing the ground game of Chubb, Johnson, and even Mayfield. Just when they got in the red zone, though, things went a little south. LT Joel Bitonio committed a false start, and then Higgins couldn’t hang on to a pass. Mayfield did find Hooper for a gain of 10 yards on second down to set up 3rd-and-5 at the 8 yard line. The pocket collapsed on the edge, though, and Mayfield was sacked, forcing the field goal unit to come on. Naggar came on for a 37 yard field goal attempt, which he hit to make it a 24-15 game with 1:07 remaining in the third quarter.
DE Joe Jackson got penetration to force a nine yard loss on a reverse to start Green Bay’s next drive. An incompletion on second down set up a 3rd-and-19, and the underneath pass to Adams only gained 9 yards to close out the quarter for a big three-and-out. The Packers punted to begin the fourth quarter, with Mayfield taking over the next series at the 28 yard line.
Schwartz ran for 13 yards to begin the next drive, and then Mayfield had a would-be interception dropped by a defender. He made up for it with a first down completion to Higgins to move the chains. After that, he went for the home run ball down the middle to a diving Peoples-Jones, who nearly made an amazing catch but could not haul it in. A few plays later, on another third down, Mayfield threw a laser to Landry over the middle for 12 yards and a first down.
A false start by LG Michael Dunn made it 2nd-and-12 at the 33 yard line. Mayfield was then sacked on the next play for a loss of two, making it 3rd-and-14 from the 35 yard line. He was sacked on third down as well for a loss of 8 yards, completely taking them out of field goal range. On 4th-and-22, they had to go for it. A false start made it 4th-and-27, and they decided to punt the ball instead. Even though we have no idea if Naggar can accurately make a long field goal, the opportunity to trim it to a one-score game was lost with the false start and multiple sacks to end that series.
The Packers took over at the 20 yard line with 8:57 remaining in the game. The defense forced another three-and-out to give Cleveland the slimmest of hopes to still have a shot. After the 50-yard punt, Cleveland would begin at the 24 yard line with 6:41 remaining.
The Browns’ next drive started with Chubb getting carries of 12 and 8 yards, followed by a screen pass of 11 yards, to get out to the Green Bay 45 yard line. On 3rd-and-10 from the 35 yard line, the Packers were caught off guard by a handoff to Johnson, which went for 30 yards down to the 5 yard line. Cleveland hurried up to the line, and Mayfield found Schwartz for the touchdown to make it a 24-22 game with 4:31 remaining and all three timeouts in their pocket.
Could the defense come in clutch one more time? After one first down, the Packers faced a 3rd-and-6 with the game virtually on the line. Rodgers found Adams open up the left seam, but he dropped it! The Packers brought the punt unit on, and Cleveland would get a shot for the two-minute drill to win it, beginning at the 25 yard line. A 4-yard run by Chubb set up 2nd-and-6 heading to the two-minute warning. A couple more plays to Chubb gave the Browns a 1st-and-10 from the 50 yard line with over a minute to play.
After two incompletions, it was 3rd-and-10. The magic ran out, though, as Mayfield went for Peoples-Jones. Just like the first turnover, the defender held Peoples-Jones, but no flag came and he was picked off. The Packers were able to run out the clock from there.
“Clean play, no flag”— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) December 26, 2021
refs are legitimate trash in this league most of the time pic.twitter.com/sFBhN8FiJ9
Now, we sit and wait. If a few things go the Browns’ way, they can technically still win the division by beating the Steelers and Bengals to close out the season. They’ll need help from the Chiefs and Rams to take care of other teams in the AFC North leading up to that, though.
- QB Baker Mayfield: 21-of-36 for 222 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT.
- RB Nick Chubb: 17 carries, 126 yards, 1 TD. 3 catches, 58 yards.