It was right there. With three minutes left in the fourth quarter, cornerback Greedy Williams and the Cleveland Browns’ defense headed into the Dawg Pound, ball in hand, in celebration after Williams intercepted Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. After Williams’ interception, the Browns’ offense headed out onto the field only needing a first down to ice the game away.
Instead of getting a first down and ending the game in victory formation, Cleveland’s drive stalled and Browns quarterback Nick Mullens spent the end of the game with his head in his hands as Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson’s game-winning field goal sailed through the uprights to give Las Vegas a 16-14 win. Before the Browns head to Lambeau Field on Christmas day, here are our takeaways from the Browns’ heartbreaking loss.
Cleveland’s COVID-19 absences played a part in the loss.
The lack of quarterback Baker Mayfield generated a lot of headlines during the week, but the Browns’ 17 other absences impacted the game just as much — if not more. While Mayfield’s absence was obviously magnified, the lack of offensive weapons Kareem Hunt, Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper and offensive tackle Jedrick Wills seemed to impact the game plan more than Mayfield’s absence. With no Wills, Hunt and Hooper, the Browns’ run game was severely hampered on a night it was needed most. While running back Nick Chubb finished with 91 yards rushing and a touchdown, the Browns’ run offense spent most of the afternoon stuck in neutral.
By the end of the game, the Browns’ defense was gassed.
Despite allowing Carr and the Raiders to drive down the field for a game-winning field goal, the Browns’ defense put together a valiant effort on Monday. Las Vegas held the ball for more than 33 minutes, something that was extremely noticeable by the end of the game. After starting the game with 10 defenders on the COVID-19 list, the Browns’ defensive corps got even thinner as the game went on, with defensive linemen Takk McKinley and Myles Garrett both leaving due to injuries. McKinley was carted off with a leg injury, while Garrett returned but was hampered due to a groin injury. That injury attrition, coupled with being on the field for so long, proved to be too much for the Browns’ defense.
Cleveland’s game management at the end was questionable.
That said, the Browns had a chance to make sure the Raiders never got a final shot at the aforementioned field goal. After Williams’ interception, Cleveland failed to ice the game with a first down and had to punt the ball back to Las Vegas. Even with the Browns being down to their third-string quarterback and missing 40% of their offense line, it’s not too much to ask them to pick up a first down there — especially since the Browns had Nick Chubb in their backfield.
Nick Mullens did all he could (considering the circumstances).
Mullens finished the night completing 20 of 30 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown. While that line might not look like much at face value, the showing is impressive considering Mullens only had one practice with the team in preparation for the game. While Mullens didn’t wow, he did just enough to keep the Browns in the game despite being down Landry and Hooper. An aside, wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones continues to impress, as he totaled 48 yards receiving on a night where passing yards were at a premium. After struggling through most of November (due in large part to injury), Peoples-Jones has found his footing over the past two weeks.
We might not be talking about the playoffs.
With a win over the Raiders, the Browns would have gone into week 16 in first place in the AFC North. Instead, they’re going into it in the AFC North basement. While there’s only a one-game difference between the Browns and the first place Cincinnati Bengals, a win on Monday would have meant the Browns controlled their playoff destiny. Instead, Cleveland’s going to need to help if they want to extend their season. The silver lining? After a tough matchup against the Green Bay Packers on a short week, the Browns’ final games are against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Bengals, two potential wins that could jumpstart the Browns’ playoff chances. In terms of the wild card, the Browns are a game back of the seventh-seed Ravens (8-7) but would need to leapfrog three other 7-7 AFC teams, along with the 7-6-1 Steelers.