The Cleveland Browns are going out with a whimper.
One day after being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the Browns put up a listless performance offensively in a 26-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cleveland’s offense was already struggling entering Heinz Field. On Monday Night Football, it was a total embarrassment.
Baker Mayfield failed to complete a pass on 10 consecutive throws in the first half, the NFL’s longest incompletion streak since 2019, when the Jets’ Sam Darnold infamously claimed he was “seeing ghosts” on Monday Night Football. Mayfield also became the first quarterback since 2017 to be sacked at least five times and have five passes batted in the same game.
Mayfield finished 16 of 38 passing and took nine sacks. He also threw two interceptions.
This season has taken a toll on Mayfield physically, most notably the torn labrum he suffered in Week 2. But his performance in Pittsburgh showed how much of a hit the former No. 1 overall pick's confidence has taken this season, as well. On the heels of throwing four interceptions in last weekend’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, his future as the starting quarterback in Cleveland is beginning to feel tenuous, at best.
Mayfield, however, got little help from coach Kevin Stefanski’s offensive game plan, which ignored Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb for much of the night. Instead, Chubb only had four carries in the first half. Meanwhile, play after play, Mayfield took another beating from T.J. Watt and Pittsburgh’s relentless pass rush.
Mayfield did throw two touchdown passes. But the second came with 1:10 to play. And the Steelers recovered Cleveland’s onside kick attempt before adding another touchdown of their own.
With the loss, the Browns fell to 7-9, clinching a 20th losing season in the 23 seasons since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999.
“Today obviously was extremely frustrating knowing that we were (already) eliminated from the playoffs,” Mayfield said. “There's been a lot of ups and downs [this season]. Do I believe I could play better? Absolutely. Do I believe there's positions that we, as an offense could have been put in that are better? Absolutely. There's so many critiques throughout the year. If there wasn't, we wouldn't be sitting here at 7-9.”
Biggest hole in the game plan: Where was Chubb? Even as the offense tumbled into a disaster, Chubb was often wearing an orange jacket on the sidelines standing next to Stefanski, who reiterated at halftime that Chubb wasn’t injured. As Peyton Manning noted during the ManningCast broadcast, “Any time Chubb is not next to Baker, nothing good is happening.” Maybe the Browns were protecting Chubb for the future, given that their playoff hopes were already toast. But shelving Chubb didn’t mean Stefanski had to shelve the running game altogether.
Describe the game in two words: Offensive offense. The Browns have delivered some awful performances offensively over the past 20-plus years, but this one has to rank up there.
Bold prediction for next week: Case Keenum will get the start at quarterback, giving Mayfield an early jump on rehabilitating his injured left shoulder this offseason -- an offseason in Cleveland that will be dominated by speculation about what direction the front office will do at quarterback.