There’s a reason the Baltimore Ravens are the No. 1 seed in the AFC. On a night when the team's dynamic quarterback was nowhere near his best, the Ravens still somehow found a way to get a 16-10 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. While Cleveland’s defense turned in its second straight strong performance, the offense struggled again. Before a bye week, here are our takeaways from a loss that made the Browns’ playoff picture a little murkier.
Cleveland’s offense didn’t do enough.
For the first time in his career, Lamar Jackson threw four interceptions. Those turnovers resulted in three points. That will never get it done. Quarterback Baker Mayfield finished the night 18-for-37 for 247 yards and a touchdown, but the blame doesn’t solely fall on his shoulders. The run game was nonexistent (more on that below), the wide receivers had trouble getting separation (and couldn’t hold on to the ball when they did). There never seemed to be any cohesion as a unit. On a night when Jackson’s talent allowed him to overcome four back-breaking turnovers, the Browns’ offense seemed to be stuck in the mud every time they were gifted the ball.
What was up with the run game?
Sunday's showing by the Browns’ run game falls into the category of "not good." Despite having the No. 1 run game in the league coming into the week, Cleveland managed just 40 yards rushing. Any team is going to struggle to run against the Ravens defense, coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t appear to need much convincing to abandon the run, as running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt finished with just 15 carries between them. Granted, part of that could have been due to injuries sustained by tight end Harrison Bryant and tackle Jack Conklin, who might have torn his patellar tendon, but it was still interesting to see the Browns’ offense become so one-sided so quickly.
The first half won’t end up in an end of the year highlight package.
Most games between AFC North divisional opponents are dogfights. And while that term can be used to describe the first half of Sunday’s game, there are some better, more descriptive words that could be used instead: Ugly and unsightly are the two that come to mind first. The Ravens went into the tunnel at halftime leading 6-3, but in truth, neither team truly deserved to be winning. Outside of Chase McLaughlin’s 46-yard field goal with a minute left, the Browns’ first half drives ended in a missed field goal, two lost fumbles and two punts. Their opening drive, which ended in the missed field goal, was the best of the bunch, as they went 57 yards in eight plays before McLaughlin missed from 46 yards out. Things weren’t much better for the Ravens, as Jackson threw three ugly first half interceptions. He was limited to 74 yards passing and 40 yards rushing in the first half.
The Browns’ defense put forth a herculean effort.
Since Jackson entered the NFL in 2018, the Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Louisville has made a career out of making NFL defenses look foolish. But while he led the Ravens to the win on Sunday, Cleveland’s defense made Jackson and the Ravens work for almost every yard. As mentioned earlier, Jackson threw a career-high four interceptions and, despite being among the NFL's leading rusher, only averaged four yards per rush, his lowest total of the year. Sure, he still made a couple otherworldly plays, none more impressive than his touchdown pass to Mark Andrews in the third quarter, but Cleveland defensive coordinator Joe Woods had a good game plan to contain Jackson’s explosiveness. In terms of individual accolades, Myles Garrett set a new career-high with his 14th sack of the year, while linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Kormoah had his best game as a pro with 12 tackles and a tackle for a loss. Grant Delpit, John Johnson III, Denzel Ward and Ronnie Harrison had Cleveland’s four interceptions.
A division title might be out of reach for the Browns.
With the loss, the Browns are now 2.5 games back from the AFC North-leading Ravens. With a win, the Browns would have jumped into the seventh and the final playoff spot in the AFC. Instead, Cleveland now sits on the outside looking in with the Raiders, Chargers, Colts and Steelers to leapfrog. After next week’s bye, the Browns welcome the Ravens again and then the Oakland Raiders to FirstEnergy Stadium. Lose either of those games, and it’ll be another December of mock drafts in Northeast Ohio.