A wild, weird day at FirstEnergy Stadium ended with a disappointing loss for the home team.
The Browns started as hot as they have all season and weathered a 19-point Seattle run to take a lead with 9 minutes to play in the fourth quarter only to fall, 32-28, on a sun-soaked Sunday by the lake.
“Too many mistakes,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. “Too many mistakes in the red zone. Can’t overcome all of those. Still had a chance to overcome them.”
Nursing a hip injury throughout the second half, Baker Mayfield completed 22-of-37 passes for 249 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions, his last of which all but sealed Cleveland’s chances of pulling off a victory over the perennial NFC West power.
“I thought Baker was wired in, focused, concentrated during the course of the week,” Kitchens said. “We had the best week of practice that we have had and did not execute in the critical situations, and I did not call good enough plays in critical situations.
“You can’t move the ball if you turn the ball over. Simple as that. Execution. Execution. Can’t turn the ball over. Do what you are supposed to do. I have to call better plays, but it is execution and turning the ball over. We had four turnovers. We had 400 yards of offense and had 28 points with four turnovers.”
CLEVELAND – They can’t pin this one on the refs.
No, Cleveland Browns, look in the mirror and see the egg on your face for what it is.
You blew it.
Sure, there were way too many head-scratching calls that went against Cleveland in the 32-28 setback that left the Browns (2-4) still search their first home victory of the season.
But there were even more cases of Browns blunders – in strategy and execution – that left much to the imagination of what might have been.
In the aftermath, though, Baker Mayfield was willing to make a charitable donation in order to get it on record that he thought the Browns were big-time victims of shabby officiating.
He grumbled about the illegal blindside block penalty on Jarvis Landry that wiped out a dazzling, cross-field catch-and-run by Nick Chubb that would have moved the chains. He whined about the officials missing a facemask penalty the Seahawks apparently committed against Chubb during a goal-line pileup. And like his coach, Freddie Kitchens, he thought Landry crossed the plane of the end zone on the fumble that wasn’t reversed by instant replay.
Tough breaks. Mayfield, who also maintained, “the refs are never an excuse,” had some legitimate beefs as referee Adrian Hill’s crew dropped 19 flags on the two teams to underscore some of the general sloppiness on display.
Just don’t believe the Browns were robbed — unless they burglarized themselves.
Quick, Roger Goodell, pass a new rule: Teams that commit five or more turnovers can’t complain about officials … even when the calls and replays don’t always match up.
No, this loss falls at the feet of the undisciplined team that committed five turnovers, had a punt blocked, blew a 20-6 lead and inexplicably kept tempting fate with some questionable play-calling near the goal line.
Before that Landry fumble early in the fourth quarter, the Browns, trailing 25-20, had two cracks from the Seahawks’ 1-yard line. Yet rather than try pounding it in with Chubb, who finished with 122 rushing yards, Kitchens put it on Mayfield’s arm. And the third-down fade pass to Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t come close to being completed. On fourth down, Kitchens called a play that had Mayfield in a shotgun with an empty backfield. Mayfield threw a quick pass to Landry that resulted in the fumble.
The Browns dodged that episode as the Seahawks were penalized for having 12 men on the field. After Chubb was stuffed on the ensuing fourth down, the Browns forced a punt and started the next drive with prime field position that led to the TD. Yet with the lost challenge, they also lost a timeout that could have come in handy at crunch time.
Ah, crunch time. Mayfield’s last pass of the day, a fling to the flat for running back Dontrell Hilliard, was behind the target. So much for a game-winning drive, which the Browns were clearly think when they took over with 3:30 remaining. Instead, Mayfield’s errant throw resulted in a too-easy interception for K.J. Wright. Ballgame.
On the season, that with INT No. 11 for Mayfield (who has thrown for 5 TDs). That’s no way to win.
Look at Russell Wilson, having an MVP season for the Seahawks. He passed for 295 yards with 2 touchdowns and didn’t commit a turnover. Composure was his ticket. When his team trailed by 14 points early, he didn’t flinch. When the radio receiver in his helmet malfunctioned, he stayed cool and started calling his own plays in up-tempo fashion as if it were no sweat. He ran his number of fourth-quarter game-winning victory drives to 30, more than anyone else since he entered the NFL in 2012.
Sure, the Seahawks have been through a lot over the years, with a handful of veterans still in tow from the Legion of Boom glory run. They know not to panic.
Then again, if Mayfield hadn’t throw a pick just before halftime, maybe there would have been no need for last-minute drama. The Browns were set up beautifully, leading 20-12 with second down from the Seahawks’ 10-yard line inside the two-minute warning. But Mayfield’s throw for Landry in the end zone was a bit behind the target, and Shaquill Griffin deflected it into the arms of Tedric Thompson – a turnover that Wilson’s Seahawks converted into an 88-yard TD drive that was pretty much a 14-point swing.
So, as much as the Browns were vexed by the officials, their frustrations shouldn’t come anywhere close to the disdain they should have for their own blunders.
There were several cases when Mayfield was on the mark but his targets muffed or outright dropped the passes. There were first downs negated by holding penalties. Missed tackles. Busted coverages. A lot of teaching moments on video, with a bye week to use for corrections.
Kitchens praised his team for the effort and was encouraged by the efficiency early in the game – which ultimately was undone by the turnovers. Sugar-coating the bottom line won’t cut it. And tight calls or not, the coach admitted that some of the penalties (nine for 83 yards) were disturbing because they reflected a lack of concentration.
“Sometimes, it is playing with emotion instead of passion,” he said, alluding to the roughing-the-passer and late hit calls. “During the play, it’s technique, being lazy or not doing your job. There are several things. We do not ever practice penalties.”
Maybe that’s not a bad idea, because whatever the Browns are practicing, they just can’t seem to get it right with enough consistency.
Still, it’s a long season. Being 2-4 is not a death sentence. This team that entered the season with so many expectations, so much hype and, yes, so much swagger, has time to rally to make a playoff push – especially with a schedule that seemingly becomes less grueling down the stretch.
But to live up to their hope, the Browns surely need to learn to not beat themselves.
These may be the growing pains, but at the moment they reflect a reality.
Russell Wilson led the way for the Seahawks, rushing for Seattle’s first touchdown of the day and throwing for 295 yards and two more scores. Chris Carson rushed for 124 yards and scored the go-ahead and, ultimately, game-winning touchdown with 3:30 to play.
Nick Chubb led the Browns with 122 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which gave Cleveland back a lead it held the entire first half before seeing it wither away in the second and third quarters. Odell Beckham Jr. caught six passes for 101 yards.
“Definitely trying to get it into the playmakers’ hands like I harped on all week,” Mayfield said. “(Beckham) can make plays, and when he is hot, he is going to make plays.”
Early in the fourth quarter, the Browns were on the doorsteps for the go-ahead touchdown but came away with nothing after an odd sequence filled with a big fourth-down conversion, a handful of penalties and an unsuccessful challenge of a potential Jarvis Landry touchdown. Ultimately, Chubb was stuffed, and Seattle had the ball back with a five-point lead.
The Browns, though, got it right back after a 23-yard Michael Dickson punt and scored in two plays. Chubb ran 21 yards and then 3 more for his second score of the game, giving Cleveland the short-lived lead.
Seattle, as it did all game, came right back. Wilson led the way on a nine-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard Carson touchdown with 3:30 to play.
Faced with a second-and-15, Mayfield threw behind Dontrell Hilliard, who deflected the ball into the arms of linebacker K.J. Wright. Seattle ran out the clock from there.
“Trell played great. Obviously, there is a lot of stuff that we can look back on and learn from,” Mayfield said. “Stuff like that is going to happen. It is just the timing of it is obviously not great. Tried to protect him on the throw, but it is a tough one.”
The Browns’ third turnover of the game led directly to their first deficit at the 6-minute mark in the third quarter. Chubb’s fumble on a screen pass preceded a seven-play, 58-yard drive that was capped by a touchdown pass from Wilson to Jaron Brown that featured Wilson buying all sorts of time before firing to a diving Brown.
Following their worst game of the year, the Browns had one of their best offensive quarters of the season to kick things off Sunday.
Cleveland rode the momentum of Hilliard’s game-opening 74-yard kick return and found the end zone when Chubb scored his fifth touchdown of the season from 7 yards. The next possession included even more proficiency, as Mayfield found Landry for 27 yards on a fourth-and-seven and followed with the first rushing touchdown of his young NFL career, scoring from 10 yards.
Mayfield’s first pass of the second quarter was a touchdown, too, as he found Ricky Seals-Jones for a 31-yarder to stake the Browns to a two-score lead.
Seattle, though, was more than game from that point forward, forcing two Mayfield interceptions and blocking a punt to slice into Cleveland’s lead, 20-18, at the half.
“We didn’t overcome the turnovers today,” Beckham said. “Not to say that they didn’t play a good game, but we beat ourselves a lot. It was a combination of them playing a good game and making the plays where needed and us not making the plays and hurting ourselves with penalties and turnovers.
A blocked punt turned into an easy field goal, and Seattle’s first interception of Mayfield stalled a promising Browns drive. The backbreaker came with less than 2 minutes to play, as Mayfield threw behind Landry, saw the ball deflect and land in the arms of Tedric Thompson. The Seahawks turned this turnover into a touchdown when Wilson weathered a big hit to complete a 17-yard touchdown pass to Brown.
The Browns are off next week before taking on the New England Patriots in Week 8.
“We still have five division games left. There are some very important road games later in the year,” Mayfield said. “We will see what we are made of.”