SANTA CLARA, CA
Out-played and out-coached in every area except punting, the Browns got de-pantsed in Levi’s Stadium in a crushing 31-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
This shellacking on Monday Night Football was more humiliating than humbling to the Browns, who dropped out of first place in the AFC North with a 2-3 record. They have a short turnaround before a Sunday 1 o’clock meeting against the 4-1 Seattle Seahawks at home, where they haven’t won yet this year.
This wasn’t a wake-up call to the Browns. They’ve had those already. This was a bullying by a 49ers team that hasn't lost (4-0) but hasn’t beat a team with a winning record.
Behind coach Kyle Shanahan’s brilliant scheming, the 49ers pummeled the Browns’ defense for 275 rushing yards, set off on an 83-yard touchdown run by Matt Breida on San Francisco’s first play. The Browns were so out of position, they never touched Breida after a simple inside handoff.
But nobody felt the ignominy of the 49ers’ manhandling more than Baker Mayfield.
The quarterback suffered his worst day as a pro. He completed only eight passes in 22 attempts for 100 yards, was sacked four times, losing one fumble and tossing two interceptions. Mayfield’s passer rating of 13.4 was his career-low and for the first time in 18 NFL starts, he failed to throw a touchdown.
That’s not all.
Mayfield was pulled from the game for the first time in his Browns career with 5:08 to play because “he was taking too many hits unnecessarily,” said coach Freddie Kitchens. Mayfield wore a long black sleeve on his left leg after the game and walked gingerly in and out of the post-game interview room.
“I’ll be alright,” he said. “Just a physical game. I’ll be OK.”
And still, that’s not all.
Mayfield was mocked by former Buckeye Nick Bosa after the defensive end induced an intentional grounding penalty by Mayfield when Bosa had him in his grasp on the last play of the first half.
Bosa choreographed an elaborate phantom waving of the flag and planting of it in the ground to mimic Mayfield’s infamous act in Ohio Stadium after a 31-16 Oklahoma victory over Ohio State in 2017.
You know what they say about payback.
“He had it coming,” Bosa said.
“I didn’t know about that until I was informed before I got up here,” Mayfield contended in the post-game interview. “Good for him. Good play.”
It was the capper to a huge night for Bosa, who was the second overall pick of the 2019 draft. He couldn’t be stopped all night by the Browns’ over-matched offensive line. Kitchens supported the line with two tight ends most of the night, too.
Bosa was credited with two sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, five hits on Mayfield, plus the 15-yard grounding penalty. On one play, Bosa bull-rushed left guard Joel Bitonio, the Browns’ best lineman, to the ground and lunged over Bitonio to make the sack of Mayfield.
Bosa said the 49ers’ formidable defensive line had Mayfield intimidated. It was impossible to disagree.
“I don’t know how anybody thought he’d be able to see over Arik [Armstead] and Buck [DeForest Buckner],” Bosa said. “But he was panicking. He was double-clutching, rolling back and forth. We had him rattled all game.”
The game intensified concerns about the Browns’ offensive line and, worse, Mayfield’s regression in his second season. It was his fourth sub-par game in five outings. He leads the NFL with eight interceptions, his completion percentage dipped to 55.9, and his passer rating lowered to a Deshone Kizer-like 68.5.
“I think so much of the quarterback’s play has to do with those around him. Last week he played good because those around him were good. Quarterback can’t do it himself,,” Kitchens said.
Mayfield’s opinion of his play: “Not great. When you look at it, there were a lot of things wrong. We’ll go back to the drawing board.”
The Browns were outplayed from the start and fell behind, 7-0, on Breida’s first-play touchdown run and then gave the ball right back on a Mayfield interception by Richard Sherman on a pass intended for Antonio Callaway.
Callaway would play way too great a role in this loss than he should have.
Kitchens erred in writing Callaway too deeply into the gameplan after he missed virtually eight weeks of football – four weeks with a high ankle sprain and four weeks in an NFL drug suspension.
The play of the game was a Mayfield interception at the goal line by ex-Brown K’Waun Williams on a pass thrown behind Callaway slanting free. Callaway tipped the ball and Williams corralled it and returned it 49 yards to midfield.
The Browns were at third-and-goal from the 8. A touchdown there would cut the 49ers’ lead to 14-10. But the 49ers responded with Jimmy Garoppolo managing the 49ers for a dagger touchdown in six plays, five of them runs. Tevin Coleman’s 19-yard touchdown run made it 21-3, San Francisco at halftime.
So the turnover was a 14-point swing. Ballgame.
The game should have been more lopsided but the 49ers failed to capitalize on four Browns turnovers in all. 49ers kicker Robbie Gould missed three field goals – one was blocked by Tavierre Thomas. Gould finally made one after the 49ers recovered a fumble by Odell Beckham Jr., who volunteered to field a punt but held the ball like a cup of hot coffee while skittering hither and yon.
“To be honest, it just seemed like we were ready to go home and I just wanted to keep fighting to the final whistle. I just did way too much,” Beckham said.
He did everything but what he is paid to do – make plays catching the ball.
Beckham threw a pass to soulmate Jarvis Landry for 20 yards on the first play of the game, carried two times for 15 yards, but had just two receptions for the second game in a row for 27 yards. He had two drops.
The only thing the Browns did good on this night was punting. Jamie Gillan continued his amazing story with four punts out of seven inside the 20-yard line and netted 49.3 yards average, including a 71-yarder with fortuitous bounces, and bombs of 69 and 63 yards.
And we thought the days of the Browns having only their punter to brag about were over.
“Once again, we’re not hitting the panic button,” Mayfield said. “For us, we know the problem. We know we have to be better and do better. When you play a great team, you have to eliminate mistakes. You just have to. We know exactly what we need to do. We need to play well. We need to do our job each and every play.”