BALTIMORE -- From the other side of the concrete walls, one could hear players screaming inside the Cleveland Browns locker room.
Coach Kevin Stefanski called it “normal football” emotion. Captains Joel Bitonio and Myles Garrett attributed it to “passion.” And quarterback Jacoby Brissett noted it showed the Browns still have “fight.”
What it indicated, more than anything, was frustration pouring out from a 2-5 team on the heels of yet another demoralizing defeat.
On Sunday, the Browns fell 23-20 to the Baltimore Ravens, placing Cleveland’s 2022 season on the brink just seven games in.
In many ways, the Browns played their best game of the season in Baltimore.
The defense, which has struggled mightily of late, bottled up former MVP Lamar Jackson and came up with several critical stops. Offensively, the Browns rushed the ball effectively (when they handed off to Nick Chubb), while Brissett completed an efficient 22 of 27 passes for 258 yards.
Yet when it came to delivering enough winning plays, Cleveland came up short once again.
“We found a way to lose the game,” said running back Kareem Hunt. “We’ve been doing that a lot.”
Cleveland’s special teams were a disaster again. The Browns inexplicably gave Chubb only 16 carries, even though Baltimore appeared unable to stop him when they did, allowing him 5.7 yard per carry. Three straight passing plays to begin the third quarter led to a Brissett sack and fumble, which the Ravens ultimately cashed in for their lone touchdown of the second half.
And yet, the Browns still had the opportunity to change the trajectory of their spiraling season in the final minutes.
Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah stripped running back Justice Hill of the ball as the Ravens were on the verge of putting the game away. Defensive end Isaiah Thomas recovered the fumble, giving Cleveland the chance for a game-winning touchdown drive, or, at the least, game-tying field goal.
But on third-and-2 from the Baltimore 34-yard line, Stefanski dialed up a pass instead of rolling with Chubb, who only touched the ball once on the drive. Wideout Amari Cooper was flagged for offensive pass interference for slightly pushing off the defender as he hauled in what would’ve been a touchdown down the sidelines. Though Cooper didn’t object to the call, later saying pushing off “is something that I shouldn’t have done,” the ticky-tack penalty killed the drive. A questionable false start flag on lineman Michael Dunn pushed Cade York's field goal attempt back to a 60-yard try, which Baltimore blocked to secure the win.
“It shows you the margin of error in this league -- it’s very slim,” Brissett said. “You go out there and play. ... pretty well. Sometimes you still don’t get the results that you want.”
After a fourth consecutive loss, Cleveland’s margin for error is now virtually non-existent. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Browns just a 6% chance to make the playoffs.
Cleveland can’t save its season with a victory over the surging Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN). Another loss, however, would effectively end the season before the Browns even reach their bye week to begin November.
“Nobody is intent on giving up or letting this season go or thinks this season is gone,” Garrett said. “There’s a lot of football to be played. … Everything is still ahead of us. It would’ve been nice to have won this game; it would’ve been good for us in the standings and for this division, but we still have a lot of time to correct a lot of mistakes we’ve been making.”
Mathematically, Garrett isn’t wrong. Psychologically, the screaming suggested otherwise.