FirstEnergy Stadium was all Nick Chubb's, as he carried the Browns to a win with their passing game less than good again. (Cleveland Browns)
Browns win but lose chance to heal up Baker Mayfield with twin games coming against Baltimore
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
If the Browns had elected to rest beat-up Baker Mayfield and played Case Keenum and eked out a 13-10 victory over winless Detroit on Sunday to stay within striking distance of lucky Baltimore with two meetings to come over the next three weeks, everyone would have considered it a productive day.
Tuck away an ugly victory and get the starting quarterback healthier for the Ravens. Sounded like a decent plan.
But because Mayfield played, and limped, and labored, and threw the ball as badly as Tim Boyle, and kept the Lions in the game with his second interception, and gave nobody hope that he would be fit for the challenge in Baltimore, it seemed like a lost day.
What good did it do to Mayfield’s psyche to expose him to a chorus of boos and his bum shoulder/bruised heel/bruised knee to risk further injury?
“He was cleared to go in there,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “I think you guys know, he is toughing it out, and he is battling.
“You could ask Baker [if his accuracy was affected by the injuries or the rainy conditions].”
Alas, after setting a season-low for passer rating (53.2) for the second game in a row, Mayfield declined to appear in the media room.
On this day, against a Lions team that doesn’t have the horses to win, and has a coach that handed off on third-and-14 with the game on the line and then punted with 2 ½ minutes to go, Mayfield was just barely good enough to be carried to the team’s sixth win in 11 games.
Maybe we should say he was just good enough to hand off to Nick Chubb.
Chubb went over 100 yards after Lions coach Dan Campbell punted away his team’s hopes. Chubb ran four successive times for one first down, and then converted a third-and-2 to send a sparse, rain-soaked audience home. Chubb finished with 130 yards rushing on 22 carries and received a 5-yard pass from Mayfield for the Browns’ first touchdown.
The Browns are now 16-5 when Chubb rushes for 100 yards, and though that statistic often reflects a team sitting on a big lead, this victory definitely was earned by Chubb. He was serenaded by chants of "Chubb! Chubb! Chubb!" throughout the second half.
"We needed him and he showed up. I was out there chanting for him, too," said cornerback Denzel Ward, who joined linebacker Malcolm Smith in intercepting Boyle in the Detroit third-stringer’s first NFL start.
The Browns’ once-potent offense remained Missing In Action despite the much-needed win. It says something about the state of things that the only passing touchdown was to Chubb and the only rushing touchdown was provided by Jarvis Landry.
After a scoreless first quarter – the first this season involving the Browns – Landry took a snap in the Wildcat formation, looked to throw, tucked the ball down and scooted up the middle for a 16-yard touchdown.
It was Landry’s second touchdown of the season – both on the ground. He was Mayfield’s most targeted receiver, but they connected on only 4 of 8 attempts for 26 yards. Landry’s receiving yardage totals since returning from a sprained MCL now read like this: 37, 65, 11, 26 and 26.
He limped off the field at one point in the second half after aggravating that left knee once again, but came back and gamely made a key block on a Chubb 11-yard run that made a first down on the next-to-last possession.
“Jarvis, he’s tough,” said Chubb. “He wants to win.”
The Browns’ defensive effort was similar to the close win they had against Denver. They shut out the Lions in the first half, then gave up two scores in the second. The only offensive play of note was a 57-yard touchdown run by D’Andre Swift, on which safety John Johnson was victimized by a Swift cut inside. Swift made the same move downfield, evading defensive tackle Malik Jackson and safety Grant Delpit, on the way to the end zone.
Swift finished with 136 yards on 14 attempts. That was offset by Boyle’s 15-of-23, 77-yard, two-interception afternoon.
Which might explain why Campbell handed off to Swift on third-and-14 from the Lions’ 36 with 3:11 to play. It doesn’t explain why he punted after Swift’s 5-yard gain.
Campbell also kicked a 43-yard field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Browns’ 25 with 9:07 to play to draw within three points.
“The fourth-and-1 [decision] was tough,” Campbell said. “The fourth-and-9 wasn’t, just because I wanted to be smart with what we were doing. When your defense is playing like that, you want to be mindful of making sure that you’re being smart with your quarterback. But still having a chance to win, I felt it was the right thing to do. I though we’d get that ball back.”
This game was close enough for the Browns to lose also because money kicker Chase McLaughlin missed a PAT and field goal try from 46 yards.
But all’s well that ends well. Even though it didn’t feel like a confidence-boosting win.
“Anytime you win is a big boost to what you’re doing,” Stefanski said. “It does not mean that you don’t make adjustments or fix some things you are not doing great. We will do that. But we also know what is in front of us. We have a two-game series vs. Baltimore with a bye in the middle of that. So we have to be at our best moving forward.”
And that, after all, would have been the point of resting Mayfield.