Despite an incredible performance by a defense that forced four Lamar Jackson interceptions and held the Baltimore Ravens to 16 points, the Cleveland Browns were unable to produce enough points to get the victory and head into their bye a listless 6-6.
The final Browns drive told the story of the game for the Browns offense not only in this game but the season as a whole. A complete whiff by Jedrick Wills on first down, forcing Baker Mayfield to make a heroic escape just to throw the ball away. A back shoulder throw to Jarvis Landry to the left sideline he couldn't secure on second down followed by tight end Austin Hooper dropping a pass over the middle on third down and a pass to tight end David Njoku, which was completed but woefully short of the first down.
Mayfield was noticeably healthier in this game then the past two weeks and his play reflected it. He was significantly better with his accuracy, looking the quarterback he's capable of being, but the Browns struggled to get open against man coverage, which has been a theme all season and limited what this offense could achieve. When receivers did get open, they dropped a number of catchable passes that could've changed the game.
The Ravens defense did what a number of teams have done this year to bottle up the Browns offense. Load up the box to stop the run and force the Browns to win through the air. The Browns ran the ball 17 times for just 40 yards and the offense, almost entirely reliant on an air attack, could only muster 10 points. Out of 12 games this season, the Browns have been unable to eclipse 17 points in seven of them.
As bad as the offense was, it doesn't touch how embarrassing the Browns were on special teams, which has become an abomination in recent weeks. The Browns had 12 men on the field no less than four times in this game in special teams situations, including during a moment where the Ravens deliberately attempted to break NFL rules that don't currently have a recourse to punish them.
Not even the first time this season, the Ravens tried to sneak their 11th player on the field late, then snap the ball before the Browns were able to sub as mandated by NFL rules. The officials, left powerless to penalize them, tried to give the Browns time a chance to sub. The Ravens did it again and the Browns used a timeout when they were caught with 12 men on the field. They should not have been forced to use a timeout in this situation.
However, after using the timeout, the Browns still managed to have 12 men on the field, this time for a penalty that allowed the Ravens to continue their drive, getting the first of their three field goals, taking a 3-0 lead.
It certainly didn't help that right tackle Jack Conklin suffered what may be a season-ending injury in the first quarter. Harrison Bryant caught three passes for 50 yards and on the 41-yard reception, his ankle got caught under him and he left game. He was the second leading receiver for the Browns in the game.
Mayfield was not without blame as he mishandled a snap on what appeared to be a beautifully set up screen. He lost control of the ball in his hands and fumbled it, enabling the Ravens to recover it. It didn't result in any points for the Ravens as the Lamar Jackson promptly threw another interception before the half ended, but the damage was done in not capitalizing on an opportunity to score points.
In spite of the critical mistake, Mayfield dragged the Browns offense down with the help of a few key contributions from the aforementioned Bryant, Jarvis Landry and David Njoku. Landry lost a fumble taking a snap from shotgun, but he also caught six passes on ten targets for 111 yards, a season high to celebrate his 29th birthday.
Njoku caught the lone touchdown, a 20-yard pass from Mayfield which made the game 13-10. He caught three passes for 35 yards on five targets.
The struggles which have been present all season long on offense and a special teams fiasco all took away from what was the best Browns defensive game outside of their record setting performance against the Chicago Bears.
The Browns were able to get the Ravens offense on 11 of 12 drives before they got i n the victory formation at the end of the game. The Ravens only managed 3.9 yards per play and the Browns defense forced four interceptions, including one for each safety.
Safety John Johnson III turned in the most impressive of the four as he was running away from Jackson down the field, played the receivers hands and managed to corral it off a deflection as he went to the ground.
Rookies Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Greg Newsome were impactful throughout the game. As part of a disruptive performance, Myles Garrett recorded his 14th sack of the season, tying the Browns franchise record in just 12 games.
It was a great game plan carried out beautifully by a group of players that gave everything they had and then some to keep the Browns in this game and it simply wasn't enough. The Browns now head into their bye week as they try address their shortcomings and play the Ravens game in what will be a must win scenario for the this team and their dwindling playoff hopes.