Another disappointing loss for Browns
Five takeaways from an unbelievable — and not in a good way — on the Browns 24-19 loss to the Broncos Sunday.
MISERY LOVES COMPANY: The Advertiser-Tribune’s publisher, Jeremy Speer, is a Lions fan. He told me recently that this weekly Browns column is “cathartic” to him because our teams are so similar.
The franchises are similar. Each team has had an era-defining running back. The Browns had Jim Brown, the Lions Barry Sanders. Neither has been to a Super Bowl. Both have, over the last decade-plus, suffered the indignity of an 0-16 regular season.
And both, Sunday, lost in excruciating ways.
The Lions were stopped at the Raiders’ one yard line down a touchdown on the final play of the game. The Browns fu manchu wearing quarterback — for the moment — Baker Mayfield didn’t even look to an open Odell Beckham on the team’s final offensive play, choosing instead to throw to a wide open…wait, no…double-covered Jarvis Landry.
The pass was incomplete. More than three minutes remained, but the Browns had no timeouts — more about that later — so the Broncos needed just one first down to run out the clock.
They got it. They did.
And now, both the Browns and the Lions are trapped by the success of their divisional rivals. The Browns are 2-6, four games behind the Ravens in the AFC North, two games behind the Mason Rudolph quarterbacked Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Lions are a much more respectable 3-4, but the Packers are 7-2 and the Vikings are 6-3.
In Cleveland, in Detroit, and yes, here in Tiffin, we went back to standard time yesterday, setting our clocks back and allowing darkness to shorten our afternoons and making evenings seem endless.
As Browns and Lions fans, a darkness that has loomed over each franchise for decades seems likely to persist. It seems endless.
Welcome to late fall pro football in this region. And I didn’t even mention the Bengals.
THINKING BACK: The reason this column started — the reason I decided to pen a weekly Browns piece — was because I thought the Browns would be exciting.
I doubted my ability to project an accurate record — I thought they’d finish 10-6 — but I was certain they’d be fun, and it would be fun writing about them.
Mostly, I thought if Baker Mayfield stayed healthy, the Browns would be in the postseason hunt.
Listing his stats from last year serves no purpose. If you watched the Browns in the final eight weeks of the 2019 season, you felt like you were watching the beginning of a brilliant career.
In those games, Mayfield was quick, decisive and confident. And that seemed to inspire the Browns to play better than — perhaps — they were.
That the Browns finished 7-8-1 last year, and that Baker was second in rookie of the year voting, allowed fans more than optimism.
For a fanbase treated to four wins in three years, the mood was practically celebratory.
The biggest problem was solved. Baker was our quarterback. And a great quarterback can cover up a million mistakes.
Only this year, Baker hasn’t been great. He hasn’t been good.
He’s been downright mediocre.
Mayfield threw one touchdown pass Sunday, Cleveland’s only touchdown of the game.
The statistics say Baker wasn’t bad Sunday, and he wasn’t.
He completed 27 of 42 passes for 273 yards. He wasn’t intercepted.
But his accuracy and decision-making weren’t great. So many of his passes seem to sail on him, and he still misses Beckham too often.
And I have to admit, I worry about Mayfield’s focus. Last week he stormed out of an interview after a spat with veteran beat reporter Tony Grossi.
Some thought the reporter was stirring up Mayfield with his questions.
But regardless, as the face of the franchise, Mayfield seems too easily rattled. It’s also frustrating to see a quarterback of a 2-6 team in every other commercial.
And Baker had an odd day with his razor Sunday. He walked into the stadium with a full beard, played the game with a fu manchu, and then by the postgame presser had it shaved down to a mustache.
He looked like David Arquette in Scream.
I know it may be trivial, but as a man who at times hasn’t shaved three times in a month, I can say I wish the QB was focused on getting plays run on time and less about personal grooming.
Especially if the end result makes you look like Milton in Office Space.
OK, that’s the last 1990s movie reference.
THE PETER PRINCIPLE: Freddie Kitchens is a perfect example of the Peter Principle.
Developed by Laurence J. Peter — and not, as I thought, a quote by George Bernard Shaw, which is why it took so long for me to look up when writing this column — the idea is that people in a hierarchy tend to rise the level of their incompetence.
Kitchens is not a head coach. Or, at the very least, he’s not a head coach who also should be calling his own plays.
In the third quarter, with the Browns trailing 17-12, Cleveland pushed inside the Broncos 10. Facing a third-and-three from the 7, the Browns lined up in a one-back set.
That back was Dontrell Hilliard.
Mayfield handed to Hilliard, he got two yards. So on fourth-and-1 from the five, the Browns used a one-back set again.
Hilliard was in again.
Mayfield was stopped short on a QB sneak, but before we get to that, where was Nick Chubb?
Kitchens said afterward the plays they were running called for Hilliard, not Chubb.
One of the most important plays of the game — if not the season — and your best player is on the bench.
Chubb only had 65 yard rushing Sunday, but he fought hard for every one, often succeeding when the blocking tried to make him fail.
He’s an elite back. A star.
Where was he?
Why eliminate the threat of him getting the ball?
That was on Kitchens. And then, throwing the challenge flag after the failed fourth and one — Baker said afterward that Kitchens believed in him, and that’s why he threw the flag — was stunning.
Kitchens is bad at challenges. Spot challenges have proven nearly impossible to overturn. But Kitchens has lost two spot challenges in two weeks.
It cost the Browns their first timeout. They used their second on a touchdown drive early in the fourth before a third down.
So, for the second time in two games, the Browns played the final six minutes of regulation with one timeout.
This is becoming a theme with Kitchens. Every week there seems to be a handful of things that don’t make sense.
IT’S OVER: The Browns aren’t making the playoffs. That’s hardly a bold prediction. If they do, I’ll gladly eat crow. But even though I think Kitchens is quickly becoming the most overmatched coach in franchise history, I don’t support firing him. At 2-6, what’s left to save? Might as well let him roll for the rest of the season and see if he gets better.
Now, there’s nothing to lose.
WHITEHEAD: After the loss, Browns safety — well, now ex-safety — Jermaine Whitehead took to social media and unleashed a string of threatening posts to fans and media members who criticized his play.
Some of his posts were racist. Almost all were threatening.
When I was covering the Division III World Series in 2010, coaches and players were given a 10-minute “cooling off” period before they faced us at the podium.
It makes sense to give coaches and players time to cool off before stuffing a recorder in their faces.
But now, social media has allowed players to vent immediately after games, Reports said Whitehead had his phone in his hand before he’d even taken off his uniform.
Whitehead was cut Monday, and rightfully so. I don’t know what he was thinking.
But I have come to believe that despite so many of us use social media, there’s very little good that can come from it.
That’s just my opinion.
I should tweet that.