When Jarvis Landry fails to catch the ball, the Browns are in trouble
Matt Starkey/Cleveland Browns
The last-place Cleveland Browns have turned into a beat-up, beaten-down illusion.
They aren’t what anyone thought they would be—probably including themselves.
The roster, allegedly replete with talent, appears hollowed out, a sink hole of injuries or, to borrow medical and legal terms, they are guilty of malpractice and malfeasance.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield, playing with a twice-injured left shoulder, demonstrated in a 15-10 loss to Pittsburgh (of course) that he remains brave and full of fire. One risky run, game on the line, did the trick and was a treat. Then, the 4-4 Browns dropped ball.
With his team, finally moving in the fourth quarter, Mayfield did what he had to do to keep a drive alive. Non-throwing shoulder, fracture and torn labrum harnessed in place, be damned. The Browns needed saving and Mayfield even more needed to save them. So on a third down he took off for the right sideline and the five yards necessary to keep the ball. The Steelers hit him as he reached the boundary. He went splat on what looked like a hard surface. He landed his non-injured right side, popped up as if he were a Baker-in-the-Box toy and began running again.
He sprinted back into fair territory, fist pumping in the air, the worried FirstEnergy Stadium crowd erupting in relief and appreciation. It looked for a moment as if Mayfield were going to replicate one of his post-touchdown-pass sprints on Owen Field at the University of Oklahoma. Arms wind-milling, the high-stepping Mayfield always looked more like a drum major at the head of a band than a mere quarterback. His happy sprints became tradition and legend during his Heisman Trophy Sooners season.
This time, however, Mayfield braked and got back to work. In the end, there would be no celebration. Though he connected with Jarvis Landry, his favorite and most reliable receiver, two plays later, Landry fumbled away the ball when hit by Joe Schobert, the now-Steeler linebacker that the Browns thought too slow and not good enough to retain.
Landry beat himself up after the loss because he recognized the opportunity that Mayfield had presented to his team. “The play was incredible,” Landry said. “[Baker] bounced up to show the energy and passion. Looking back at it, it sucks [that] I did not make those plays, because his effort was something that should be commended.”
Nice as it is to compliment Mayfield’s relentless effort, what he and his team need more is for Landry and others to make plays that complement and further the cause. But that didn’t happen. Mayfield played well enough for his team to win. He completed 20 of his 31 throws for 225 yards and did not turn the ball over. But for the third of seven games he has played—he missed his first last week after 53 consecutive starts—Mayfield failed to throw a touchdown pass. The blame falls on others as more than on him.
On the first drive of the game, tight end Austin Hooper dropped a high-but-catchable ball on first-and-goal from the eight with nothing but five yards of grass between him and the end zone. The Browns had to settle for their only three points of the first half.
The end-of-game drops and shortcomings in the usually more productive run game negated the fire Mayfield attempted to light under his offense. Meanwhile, the defense could not do quite enough to prevent Ben Roethlisberger from quarterbacking the Steelers to the 50th victory of his storied career over Cleveland (24) and Cincinnati (26), his home-state teams. The Browns have beaten Big Ben only three times, with one tie.
After Landry fumbled, he followed with two dropped passes, and Odell Beckham Jr., who had but one catch in one official chance, might have had another had he extended himself more on another catchable ball. It became a no-consequence failure because the Steelers were penalized on the play for roughing passer Mayfield.
The punishment Pittsburgh laid on Mayfield—he was sacked four times in the first half—may not have hurt him as much as that caused by his own offense’s failures. When a team cannot score enough points to win when it allows only 15, it is time to stop talking up its Super Bowl-caliber talent and begin to ask if there is something besides injuries that may be making it difficult to even reach the playoffs after the 2020 breakthrough.
Coach Kevin Stefanski continues to express faith in his and the coaching staff’s ability to fix an offense that has scored 17 or fewer points in half of its eight games. They have nine games left in the NFL’s new 17-game regular season. “We just have to do it,” he said. “Talking about it is not going to get it done.” So far, nothing has gotten it done.
Mayfield expects negativity “from the sports media world” to include a belief that “the world is falling down” around the Browns’ ears. Buckle your chin straps. It could be a bumpy ride. If a person looks at the remaining schedule, it takes a “glass-half-full” instead of “glass-half-empty” mentality to be optimistic staring at this gauntlet:
- November 7—at 5-3 Cincinnati, second in the AFC North
- November 14—4-4 New England, which has won 3 of its past 4 games
- November 21—0-8 Detroit (Did the Lions hire Hue Jackson?)
- November 28—at 5-2 Baltimore, first in the AFC North
- December 12—Baltimore, following a needed week off
- December 19—5-2 Las Vegas, first in the AFC West
- December 25—at 7-1Green Bay, first in the NFC North
- January 3—at 4-3 Pittsburgh (Will this be Roethlisberger’s final game?)
- January 9—Cincinnati (Will this end the Brown’s 2021 season?)
While I am a glass-half-empty sort of writer, Baker Mayfield is a glass-half-full+ QB. “We have a good enough team,” he continues to insist. “It is just that we are kicking ourselves in the foot right now.” Either Mayfield has returned to his 2020 habit of slipping malapropisms and other craziness into interviews—it was humorous when the team was winning—or, he is demonstrating that he, too, can fumble and drop . . . words.
NOTE: All of the enumerated Mayfield Memorandums can be found at: https://stevelovewriter.com/blog/