CLEVELAND — Late in the first half Sunday, the Cleveland Browns faced third-and-long from their own 25-yard line. With only a minute remaining and the Baltimore Ravens out of timeouts, the Browns could’ve run the ball, and the clock, to go to halftime down just 7-6 to the team with the NFL’s best record.
Instead, Cleveland coach Freddie Kitchens dialed up a Baker Mayfield pass that fell incomplete. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson then capitalized, taking the Ravens right down the field for a momentum-swinging touchdown.
The exchange served as the appropriate microcosm of the debacle the Browns have been this season, as Baltimore rolled to a 31-15 victory to mathematically eliminate Cleveland from the postseason picture while clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
To that point, Cleveland had unexpectedly outplayed the Ravens, who entered the day as double-digit favorites.
An undermanned Browns defense had held Jackson in check, and a series of ill-timed Baltimore penalties had set up Mayfield’s one-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Harris.
But as they have been all season, the Browns were too discombobulated.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Cleveland made a mild push to get back into the game. After defensive holding on a failed fourth-and-goal gave the Browns new life, Mayfield found Odell Beckham Jr. for OBJ’s third touchdown of the season. The two-point conversion attempt to try to make it a one-possession game, however, failed, with Mayfield’s throw sailing through the hands of backup tight end Ricky Seals-Jones. On the sideline, Beckham got into a heated exchange with Kitchens, one week after teammate Jarvis Landry did the same.
Baltimore scored on its ensuing drive, leaving FirstEnergy Stadium dejected with a smattering of celebrating Ravens fans.
Pivotal play: Up 6-0 and in control, the Browns faced third-and-1 from their own 28. Instead of pounding the ball inside to Chubb, Kitchens called a play to Kareem Hunt, who appeared to be pulling up for a halfback pass. Instead, he was dropped for an eight-yard loss, forcing a punt. Two plays later, Jackson connected with tight end Mark Andrews for a wide-open 39-yard touchdown off a blown coverage. The Ravens never trailed again.
Silver lining: Cleveland’s draft pick keeps looking better and better. The Browns desperately need help at left tackle. With a late-season swoon, they’re almost in striking distance of having a chance to draft Georgia product Andrew Thomas, who is a projected top-10 pick and the top tackle in the draft. Either way, Cleveland’s pick will be a lot better than anyone would’ve guessed before the season.
Describe the game in two words: So emblematic. Clock mismanagement, questionable decision-making, missed opportunities and sideline shouting all defined Sunday’s game, as they have this entire Browns season.