With 1:58 left in the Cleveland Browns’ divisional matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers matchup on Sunday, Baker Mayfield stepped up in the pocket, looked downfield and slung a ball to wide receiver Jarvis Landry. For the past three years, Landry has been Mayfield’s security blanket and has practically caught almost everything that’s come his way.
He didn’t on Sunday.
While Mayfield’s pass was a little above Landry’s head, the ball hit him in the hands before glancing away and crashing onto the turf. The play was emblematic of Cleveland’s showing; they had the win in their hands, but they couldn’t get out of their own way. From Landry’s rough showing to a head-scratching fake field goal call, here’s our takeaways from the loss before the Browns head to Cincinnati next week to take on Joe Burrow and the Bengals.
The Browns offense had two good drives… and then not much of anything else. On the Browns’ two scoring drives (which came on their opening drives of the first and second half), they totaled 21 plays for 149 yards and 10 points. On their seven other drives, they totaled 162 yards on 38 plays. The Browns went on two vintage Kevin Stefanski drives that featured dynamic play calling built around the Browns’ strengths. Aside from that, they struggled to put anything together. Their best non-scoring drive was stymied late in the fourth quarter when Landry fumbled in the Pittsburgh red zone. Speaking of that…
Jarvis Landry has his worst day as a Brown. Without Jarvis Landry, the Browns wouldn’t be the team they are today. Since former general manager John Dorsey plucked Landry from the Dolphins in 2018, the LSU product has been productive and efficient on the field. He's also lead a culture shift in the locker room. All that is to say is that Landry’s performance on Sunday is rare. While he led the Browns with 65 yards receiving, the usually sure-handed receiver dropped two passes in the fourth quarter along with committing the aforementioned fumble. Odell Beckham Jr.’s day was even worse, as he finished with six yards on one catch. It’s another disappointing performance for Beckham, who only has 226 yards receiving through five games.
What was Mike Tomlin doing? If things had gone differently in the end, the story of the week might have been coach Mike Tomlin’s decision to run a fake field-goal at the end of the first half. With a chance to take a 6-3 lead, Tomlin dialed up a fake field goal that put the ball in the hands of Steelers kicker Chris Boswell. With no options open, Boswell tried to extend the play and was lit up by Browns’ defensive lineman Jake Elliot — a hit that knocked Boswell, the Steelers' only kicker, out of the game. Instead of playing it safe, the Steelers turned up the pressure on offense. Instead of kicking a chip shot field goal in the fourth quarter to take a 12-10 lead, the Steelers went for it on fourth and two at the goal line, a decision that resulted in Roethlisberger hitting tight end Pat Freiermuth for the go-ahead touchdown. In a game where points were at a premium, Tomlin’s head-scratching decision to run a fake ended up with the worst possible outcome.
D’Ernest Johnson continues to impress. While Johnson only tallied 22 yards on the ground, the third year running back scored Cleveland’s only touchdown on an 11-yard scamper in the third quarter. On a day the Browns had a tough time getting anything going on the ground (Nick Chubb only had 61 yards rushing), Johnson’s TD run was a tangible example of his speed and elusiveness. While his playing time will no doubt dip once Kareem Hunt returns from injury, it’ll be hard for Stefanski to keep Johnson on the bench.
The season’s not over. There’s no doubting Sunday’s loss was ugly and demoralizing. It's true: The Browns are 4-4 and in the basement of the AFC North. But it’s not the end of the season — not by a long shot. Heck, the division isn't lost either. Sure, there’s less room for error now, but the Browns still have five divisional games left. If the Browns go 4-1 over that stretch of games, they should (in theory) still be in the running for the division come December. That said, if they keep playing like they did on Sunday, it won’t matter.