CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – The Browns are going to be At Home with Baker Mayfield… for the playoffs.
Sunday evening the Chargers beat the Broncos 34-13 to officially eliminate Cleveland from the playoff picture rendering their final two games – Monday night in Pittsburgh and at home against the new division champs – meaningless.
Mayfield and company got some help earlier in the day in Baltimore, but not the outcomes they needed in Cincinnati or Los Angeles and so their quest to return to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons is over.
The lesson: never leave your fate in the hands of someone other than yourself.
Sunday’s results were the cherry on top of a campaign riddled with injuries, discontent, COVID and failure as a season that began with the highest of expectations comes crashing down in spectacular fashion.
Based on how the Halsams have operated the Browns since buying the franchise in 2012, people who fail to meet expectations tend to quickly lose their jobs. Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry bought themselves a third year because of the success they had in 2020 so they aren’t going anywhere.
Next year, they may not be as fortunate – especially Stefanski.
So, who will be the sacrificial lamb to give disappointed and angry fans their pound of flesh?
The Bengals – despite head coach Zac Taylor’s best efforts to blow it in the closing minute – kicked a 20-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Chiefs 34-31 to clinch the AFC North.
It is their fifth AFC North crown after finishing in fourth place the last three years with a combined 12 victories.
Cleveland has never won the AFC North since the division was constituted in 2002 and they have failed to win a division title since last doing so in 1989.
So, what are the Browns playing for the final two weeks? They are trying to avoid a 16th last place finish within their division since 1999. If they can win their final two games to go 9-8 on the season, will be the first time since 1986-89 they were above .500 in back-to back seasons.
This was supposed to be the year the Browns finally got off that schneid. Maybe next year. The Browns were a one-year wonder.
Former Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. caught a 7-yard touchdown in the final minute to help the Rams beat the Ravens 20-19. Beckham has five touchdown catches in seven games since signing with the Rams after orchestrating his way out of Cleveland.
Stefanski’s failure to effectively use Beckham within his system and Mayfield’s perceived unwillingness to get him the ball is atop the lengthy list of reasons for why vacation plans can be made after January 9.
Beckham, who was immensely popular within the Browns locker room and will be in the playoffs while his former team watches, had seven touchdowns in 29 games for the Browns.
The divorce had a ripple effect within the team starting with Beckham’s friend, Jarvis Landry. Landry, who was a centerpiece, if not face of, the Browns brief renaissance, stopped talking to reporters during the week since Beckham’s exit. He does not appear to be happy but has avoided saying anything disparaging by not speaking.
Mayfield’s torn labrum in Week 2 and subsequent exacerbation of the injury in Week 6 contributed to the quarterback’s ineffectiveness this year, but his inconsistency and failure to win close games with the ball in his hands in the final two minutes is alarming.
The Browns enter Monday night’s now meaningless game with the Steelers having lost six of 10 games decided by 7 or less this season.
When the quarterback has more TV commercials this season than wins or even touchdown passes, that’s a problem. Looking at the big picture within the division, the Browns conceivably have the third best quarterback going forward behind Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson, whose resumes dwarf Mayfield’s by a country mile.
The best thing Berry did this year was not extend Mayfield and pay him franchise quarterback money. The question now is, what to do with Mayfield and at quarterback in 2022?
Within a three-week span, Mayfield went from high fiving every teammate who made a play during a 41-16 drubbing of the Bengals to storming out of FirstEnergy Stadium following a 13-10 win over the Lions without speaking to the media, which no one within the Browns organization defended.
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods came under fire early in the season, but his defense has performed well despite a constant revolving door on that side of the football. They’re ranked top-10 in overall defense and against the pass as well as run. They’re allowing just under 22 points per game, which is 17th leaguewide, but they’ve surrendered less than 17 points eight times.
The tone of failure, which rests at the feet of Stefanski, Mayfield and the offense, was set in Week 1.
The Browns led the Chiefs 29-20 in the third quarter and lost 33-29 with Mayfield throwing an interception on their final possession in the closing minute. In Week 5 they led the Chargers by 14 in the third quarter, 27-13, and lost 47-42. Again, Mayfield had the ball in his hands twice in the final 3 minutes and came up empty.
A 15-10 loss at home to the Steelers still stings as does a 16-10 defeat in Baltimore at the end of November that saw Mayfield capitalize on 4 Jackson interceptions with a whopping 3 points. Another interception on the final possession in the closing minute cemented a 24-22 loss at Green Bay on Christmas.
Then COVID hit. Over 40 combined members of the active roster, practice squad and coaching staff tested positive within a three-week span, but don’t be fooled, COVID didn’t derail the season.
Coming into training camp the prevailing thought was everybody was going to eat offensively – especially in the passing game. Unless you were Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt, no one ate in 2021 offensively for the Browns.
Blame Stefanski. Blame Mayfield. Make all the excuses about injuries you want. Regardless of what happens the final two games, the evaluation for 2021 is in: failure.
The opportunities were there, so they have themselves to blame.
Forget L.A., see you at the draft, again.