Baker Mayfield throws away heroic defensive effort in loss to Rams

Freddie Kitchens’ heralded offense from 2018 has vanished into thin air

Daryl Ruiter
September 23, 2019 - 3:02 am

© Scott R. Galvin/Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – FirstEnergy Stadium remained full and loud until Rams safety John Johnson III cradled the football in the end zone with 23 seconds remaining.

Cleveland's return to Sunday Night Football was at least entertaining. But most of all it was infuriatingly frustrating, and not just because of the 20-13 final score that dropped the underachieving Browns to 1-2 on the young season either.

Outmanned defensively, the Browns still hung with one of the NFL’s elite in the defending NFC champion Rams, but with four chances from the four-yard line in the final minute to force overtime or potentially pull off the upset, quarterback Baker Mayfield shot four blanks.

“I think we matched up well against them. I do not think it is like they are that much better than us,” Mayfield said. “I think they are a great team, but we have to do our job. When you look at everything that happened tonight, if we do our job, I think we handle business.”

Mayfield, who completed just 18 of 36 passes for 195 yards with a TD, interception and QB rating of 64.0, sent a tweet Sunday afternoon imploring fans to show up and be loud. The fans delivered.

“The crowd was great,” Mayfield said. “Unbelievable atmosphere until the very end, obviously. That is the kind of atmosphere that you dream of playing in.”

Head coach Freddie Kitchens also delivered – a buffet of second-guessing by going five wide and an empty backfield on those final four plays leaving the Rams free to chase Mayfield around, and did they ever.

“I should have ran it one time. I should have,” Kitchens said. “That is why I am kicking myself in the ass for it right now.”

Mayfield tried to find Jarvis Landry, who caught three of his nine targets for 62 yards, on first and second down. On third down Mayfield should’ve thrown to Landry, who beat his man slashing to the goal line, but Mayfield opted to aim for 6-foot-7 tight end Demetrius Harris in the back of the end zone.

On fourth down Mayfield got flushed to his right and deep by Rams linebacker Clay Matthews III and heaved the ball in the direction of Damion Ratley when Johnson got his hands on it to secure the ball and the victory for Sean McVay, who remains undefeated in the regular season against the AFC. He’s now 9-0.

“Whatever happens, you have to put it up for grabs if you do not get it out immediately,” Mayfield said. “They want to double No. 13 and ended up doubling Jarvis, as well. Just at that point, just put it up and try to make a play. It is fourth down. You have to.”

There was a fourth and nine from the Rams 40 with 9:19 remaining that saw Mayfield hand off to Nick Chubb, which gained a whopping two yards. Another puzzling play call from Kitchens.

“That was on me,” Chubb said. “I got tackled by one person and I need to find a way to be better and break the tackle, get around him, over him, or something. I am taking that one upon myself.”

Don’t blame Chubb. He did his part when given opportunity – 96 yards rushing, 35 more receiving that saw him average 4.2 per touch on the ground and 8.8 through the air.

Kitchens’ heralded offense from the final eight weeks of the 2018 season has inexplicably vanished into thin air. 

Despite the addition of star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who caught a team-high six passes for 56 yards Sunday night, the Browns, at times, look like they don’t have a clue what they’re doing.

“It is still early. It’s the third week of the season,” Beckham said. “This is a new team that has been put together so we are still trying to find ourselves and find our pieces.”

Despite missing four starters in the secondary, and five total defensively, Steve Wilks’ unit turned in a heroic effort that saw them force a pair of Jared Goff interceptions and three turnovers in total that Mayfield turned into a whopping 3 points.

With the Browns leading 13-10, T.J. Carrie picked Goff off with just under four minutes remaining the third quarter to set the Browns offense up at their own 49.

The offense gained two yards and went three-and-out. So much for capitalizing on momentum.

The Rams took advantage marching 72 yards to take the lead for good.

Juston Burris, claimed off waivers Friday and thrust into the starting lineup two days later gave Mayfield his last shot by picking off Joe Schobert’s deflection. Credit Schobert with the tackle that prevented a massive return from Burris when the two inadvertently collided with 2:46 remaining and the Browns in possession of the ball at the Cleveland 43.

Myles Garrett strip-sacked Goff, his sixth sack of the year with 28 seconds left in the first half. It was the only turnover turned into points. Austin Seibert kicked a 35-yard field goal for a 6-3 halftime lead.  

“The defense played out of their minds tonight,” Mayfield said. “Talk about all of the guys that they did not have. They did not use any of it as an excuse.

“They played great. It is the moments you want as an offense and as a QB. It is fourth-and-goal on the last possession to be able to take the lead. Just have to take advantage of it. We have a defense that continued to play like that. [The] Offense has to pick up their end. That starts with me.”

Sunday night’s loss was an opportunity thrown away and it left us with so many questions.

Where has the offense that Kitchens was credited with orchestrating that earned him the head coaching job we saw the final eight weeks of the 2018 season disappeared to?

What on earth was Kitchens doing on the final four plays? Five wide and an empty backfield? No imagination. Predictable result.

How about that fourth-and-9 run?

“Just blame me,” Kitchens said. “Go write your article and say that I messed the game up. Go write your article and say that it is my fault that things are not looking like it did last year because it is.”

Forget blame. There's no time for that. 

Kitchens is better served finding some answers with the 2-1 Ravens, 3-0 49ers, and 2-1 Seahawks waiting in the wings.