<
>

'We are 2-4 for a reason': Browns enter bye at crossroads

BEREA, Ohio -- Late in the first half of Sunday's deflating loss to Seattle, the Cleveland Browns had a prime opportunity to put the Seahawks on the mat.

Instead, the Browns did what they seemingly have done best these first six games.

They self-destructed.

Inexplicably snapping the ball with 22 seconds left on the play clock, quarterback Baker Mayfield was intercepted in the end zone while trying to zip the ball to Jarvis Landry. Reminiscent of a disastrous sequence for Cleveland just six days before in San Francisco, the Seahawks capitalized off the late-half miscue, driving the other way in the final minute for a touchdown with -- you guessed it -- 22 seconds remaining before halftime to swing momentum the other way.

Cleveland heads into a bye week with its season having arrived at a "crossroads," to borrow the word coach Freddie Kitchens used this week. The Browns have fallen to 2-4, their once-promising playoff hopes already teetering. Considering how the mistakes have piled up, it's almost a wonder they've won any games at all.

The Browns remain the NFL's most penalized team, with 57 infractions and 506 penalty yards. Mayfield has tossed a league-high 11 interceptions, the most by a Browns quarterback through six games in 35 years. Cleveland is tied for second most in the NFL with three red zone turnovers, not including a bizarre turnover on downs at the goal line Sunday (yes, the officials didn't help). The Browns are also fourth highest in drop rate (4.7%), own a negative fumble differential and even had a punt blocked Sunday. To top it all off, Cleveland continues to mismanage the clock in key moments.

"The microcosm of the whole thing was [Sunday's] game," said Kitchens, who curiously noted that one unnamed receiver actually ran a route against the Seahawks that wasn't even in Cleveland's playbook. "We played fairly well. We had 400 yards of offense, we had 28 points, and that is with the four turnovers. The game was won and lost right there with the turnovers. Won on their end and lost on ours.

"It has everything to do with turnovers."

The Browns, otherwise, did play fairly well against a quality opponent, and Mayfield battled through a second-half hip injury. But turnovers weren't the only gaffes in the 32-28 loss.

For all the blunders, the Browns still had a chance for a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. But Nick Chubb's 7-yard run to begin the possession was wiped out by a gratuitous Greg Robinson holding penalty. Two plays later, with Cleveland still trying to make up for the lost yardage, Mayfield's slant pass bounced off Dontrell Hilliard's hands and into the arms of K.J. Wright for the game-sealing interception.

"If we don't hurt ourselves, this team can go where we want to go," Mayfield said. "Self-inflicted mistakes [are] holding us back. ... [We're] shooting ourselves in the foot. If we can eliminate that, we can be a great football team. If you have to constantly overcome things like that, it's tough."

Cleveland has already proven that, for all its so-called on-paper talent, it's not talented enough to overcome such a miscue barrage. That leaves this defining question: With a first-time head coach and a second-year quarterback, can the Browns eliminate enough of the mistakes in time for it to matter, already so deep into a season?

"This is a team that could possibly be 6-0 or 5-1, but that's not our record. We are 2-4, and we are 2-4 for a reason," wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. "Teams can catch on fire and teams can win five games in a row, but it's not going to happen like that. Us as a team, we have to find a way to eliminate all of those things."

The Browns have the bye to try and figure it out. After that, time will begin to run out, especially with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots likely to drop Cleveland to 2-5 in Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Oct. 27.

The Browns have the talent to salvage this season, win a weakened AFC North and make the playoffs. But talent alone won't be enough.

"At 2-4, you are at the crossroads," Kitchens said. "That is what talent has gotten you. Does not mean we're going to win the game."

Especially for a team that just can't get out of its own way. And beats itself better than the rest.