Editor’s note: Tony Grossi is an analyst on the Cleveland Browns for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
The Browns scored touchdowns on their first three possessions. Their must-win home game was becoming a walk in the park on a beautiful, sunny October afternoon.
Then adversity hit. And kept on hitting.
And when things got dicey and challenges and reviews went against them, and bad calls went against them, they did what they’ve done pretty much the whole season. They wilted under their own mistakes.
Four turnovers, a blocked punt and nine more penalties were too much for the Browns’ star-studded roster to overcome.
They blew a 20-6 lead, regained it late in the game, then committed two penalties on defense to lose it again, and one on offense, plus a Baker Mayfield interception – his third – to seal a maddening 32-28 defeat to the Seattle Seahawks.
After earning their third loss in a row at home to drop to 2-4 overall, the Browns were caught between damning the officials for at least four truly bad calls and blaming themselves for their own immature mistakes.
“We almost had a complementary football game,” opined Mayfield.
Which brought to mind former coach Mike Pettine’s classic definition of almost winning – “Losing.”
Yes, the Browns almost overcame a bunch of stuff.
There was an illegal blindside block on Jarvis Landry in the fourth quarter that didn’t happen and killed a drive.
There was an apparent touchdown on a fourth-and-1 pass to Landry that was ruled a fumble and not overturned even though clear evidence on the giant video boards in FirstEnergy Stadium showed he had broken the plane of the goal line before fumbling.
A penalty for 12 players on the field on Seattle gave the Browns another fourth down try. Running back Nick Chubb was stopped short when Jadeveon Clowney pulled him down by the facemask. But there was no penalty.
You can say the Browns overcame all of that because Chubb (20 carries for 122 yards and two touchdowns) determinedly put the Browns ahead after a Seattle shanked punt with runs of 21 yards and 3 for the touchdown. After a two-point conversion, the Browns were up, 28-25, with 9 minutes to go and you figured the defense might rise up and put this one to bed.
On Russell Wilson’s ensuing drive, Morgan Burnett was penalized for a horse-collar tackle of Wilson after an incompletion and then Eric Murray was penalized for a hands-to-face infraction.
From that point, Wilson moved the Seahawks 40 yards in seven plays for a 32-28 lead.
There was still 3 ½ minutes to go. Mayfield (22 of 37 for 249 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions, 54.9 rating) had been hot-and-cold all afternoon. He was able to get Odell Beckham Jr. the ball six times for 101 yards on 11 targets, but had tossed two of his interceptions to keep the Seahawks in the game. Still, Mayfield had the chance to be a hero.
On first down after the Seattle touchback, left tackle Greg Robinson was called for holding. And on second-and-15 from his own 20, Mayfield threw behind for third-down back Dalton Hilliard. The ball glanced off Hilliard's hand and linebacker K.J. Wright intercepted to send everyone home angry.
“We lost. I’m pretty pissed,” said Mayfield, who left the game briefly between series in the third quarter with a hip injury but did not miss any game time.
Referring to the blindside block penalty on Landry, Mayfield said, “The refs are never an excuse. I will probably get fined for saying this, but it was pretty bad today. The guy is squared up with him, running at him and he is lowering his head into Jarvis. What is he supposed to do? Avoid him? This is not bull fighting. I don’t know. It ticks me off.”
Landry was dressed and exiting the locker room before media were allowed in.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said the Browns were “handcuffed.”
“Watch the film,” he said. “Every time we get momentum, there’s always something. Phantom [penalty] here, holding there, whatever the case may be. Roughing the passer when the quarterback still has the ball in his hand.
“It’s football. It’s when you leave it up to judgment calls, that’s what happens. You take the game out of the player’s hands and put it in the referee’s. It’s football. It’s not meant to be. It’s violent, aggressive, it’s barbaric and people want it to be nice.”
Beckham had a better grasp on the game than most.
“We have to overcome adversity,” he said. “We had turnovers every which way. We were beyond in the game and had the game in our hands and we let it get away. That is something that everyone in the locker room has to live with and take with them over the next couple of days and enjoy their families, or whatever it is to get ready for the Patriots.”
All of the miscues continue to reflect poorly on first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens, of course.
“You can’t move the ball if you turn the ball over,” he scowled. “Simple as that. Execution. Execution. Can’t turn the ball over. Do what you are supposed to do. I have to call better plays, but it is execution and turning the ball over. We had four turnovers. We had 400 yards of offense and had 28 points with four turnovers.”
So the Browns have to live with this one for two weeks before traveling to New England to play the undefeated Patriots, who never, ever, beat themselves.
“We still have five division games left and there are some very important road games later in the year,” Mayfield said. “We will see what we are made of.”