And just like that the magic is gone. Or is it?
Is it too early to say that about Baker Mayfield and his Cleveland Browns?
Is it too early to jump to that conclusion after the Browns were thumped and humiliated in front of the home folks Sunday?
Is it too early to take one game and blow it so out of proportion that the 10 games remaining in the National Football League season won’t have an effect on the future?
The correct answer is yes even though there are many fans who recently jumped on the club’s bandwagon after a 2-2-1 start that easily could have been at least 4-1 are at contemplating jumping back off.
This team was ambushed by the Chargers Sunday. Their 38-14 victory was deservedly well earned and very well might be a preview of what lies ahead for the Browns.
Does that mean it’s time to push the panic button or at least contemplate reaching for it? No, not yet, but what’s lurking on the schedule in the next five weeks might determine whether that would be a motivating factor to giving it serious thought.
After traveling down to Tampa Sunday to play the hot and cold Buccaneers, the next three weeks feature the resurging Steelers in Pittsburgh and home games against Kansas City and Atlanta. After a bye comes a journey down to Cincinnati.
That is a four-game minefield after the Bucs that will severely test the mettle of this team on both sides of the football, especially the defense, which will be severely tested by several of the best offenses in the NFL.
The Chargers helped reveal just how shaky the Cleveland defense really is. And yet, it’s that defense that helped carve out their record entering the game against a much softer schedule.
Mayfield is still a neophyte with regard to his transition to professional football. Every game is a learning experience, a challenge. His mature approach to the most recent disappointment reflects that.
The magic that sustained him for a couple of games after taking over for Tyrod Taylor midway through game three is gone, at least for the time being.
Mayfield’s swaggerers’ approach to his craft is mindful of a former Browns quarterback of a generation and a half ago. He was a thin kid from southern California who willed his team to numerous miraculous victories.
Brian Sipe was generously listed at 6-1 and 195 pounds, but it was his personality as much as his talent that enabled him to lead the Kardiac Kids to many thrilling and exciting come-from-behind victories that captured the hearts of Browns fans. Remember Siper Bowl?
Sipe had a certain swagger, much like Mayfield. He had the “it” factor. And that is something Mayfield will have to earn., although there are those who believe he has it right now.
He handled his first big dose of adversity very well, assuming a major portion of the blame for the Chargers loss even though it wasn’t totally his fault. And he will face a lot more as he begins his NFL career. How he deals with it will play a large part in his development as a professional.
* * *
There was no question coach Hue Jackson was so frustrated with his offense late in the second quarter against the Chargers that he disdained a field goal and went for it on fourth and two at the Chargers’ 23.
The Chargers had just scored on a two-play, 89-yard drive to take a 14-3 lead and exposed how weak the Cleveland secondary was. The Browns replied with a nice drive that stalled after nine plays.
A gamble so early in the game? Why not just kick the field goal, climb to within one score of the lead and then let the rest of the game unfold? One reason, outside of downright guessing, is he let frustration overrule his instincts. He wanted to show his offense he had confidence in them.
I had no quarrel with that. The offense needed a kick in the hind flanks and what better time to take back some of the momentum the Chargers had gained with their quick strike offense. The crowd wanted it. It was sort of a what-have-you-got-to-lose moment
Unfortunately, the offense did not reward their coach with one of Mayfield’s seven failed hookups with Jarvis Landry. Fault the play and/or the execution. But do not fault the decision. Not this time.
* * *
Now that Mayfield has been found wanting against a pass rush that all but engulfs him in the pocket and restricts his escapability and maybe visibility, offensive coordinator Todd Haley probably will try to get his young quarterback out of the pocket quickly with rollouts.
Mayfield has tried to adapt to the pro-style offense from the run-pass option he handled so well at Oklahoma. He handled it fairly well until the Chargers game. And you can bet other teams will pick up on that quickly.
That’s why Haley will probably take advantage of Mayfield’s athleticism and roll him out away from danger, giving him a better shot at succeeding. The kid’s sack total in such a short period of time (13 in three-and-a-half games) is reaching alarming levels, mainly because he stands in the pocket too long in an effort to find open receivers.
Four of the Chargers’ five sacks (one other was negated by a penalty) were of the coverage variety as the injury-riddled Cleveland receiving corps had problems getting open all afternoon.
* * *
It’s time for the offensive staff to give serious consideration to giving Nick Chubb more than three opportunities a game to display his considerable talent. The hard-running rookie shouldn’t be treated like a fragile object.
Carlos Hyde is doing a decent job as the No. 1 running back if you like 3.35 yards a tote and a whole bunch of two- and three-yard gains in 114 attempts. Chubb averages 10.81 yards in just 16 carries. You don’t have to be a math wizard to see who should be running the football more and who should be running it less.
The beef with Chubb is he fails spectacularly in pass protection and might get his quarterback seriously hurt. All right. Then why not call a running play with him lined up either next to or behind his quarterback and fix that little problem.
He had three shots at the Chargers’ defense Sunday and ripped off a 19-yarder late in the second quarter only to find himself back on the bench, probably wondering what he has to do to warrant more work.
* * *
Time for the weekly special teams report and it isn’t any better than the others as the Amos Jones saga continues.
We begin with a new and very different screw-up, the opening kickoff of the game. The opening kickoff for goodness sake. The Browns, who were receiving, were flagged for illegal formation. ON THE OPENING KICKOFF!! The penalty was declined.
Two penalties on punt returns, one for a hold, the other for unnecessary roughness. Continued problems following Britton Colquitt punts as Desmond King of the Chargers, who also picked off a pair of Mayfield passes, returned a punt 32 yards to set up a touchdown.
There was one bright spot, believe it or not. Jabrill Peppers, who has been threatening to be a dangerous punt returner, broke one for 33 yards to the LA 39 in the second quarter. He returned to the bench, where he watched the offense go three and out. He had other returns of 14 yards (wiped out by a penalty) and 13 yards. And a muff he recovered.
* * *
Classic example of teams that win in the trenches usually win games: The Chargers ran for 246 yards against the Browns and kept quarterback Philip Rivers relatively clean while he had gobs and gobs of time to pick and choose his receivers. The Los Angeles defense sacked Mayfield five times and spanked him around on numerous other occasions. The Browns were awful in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Case closed.
* * *
Finally . . . If it weren’t for the fact the Browns have been racked with injuries to the receiving corps. I would have benched Antonio Callaway. Dropping touchdown passes in the end zone should not be rewarded with more chances. Same with fellow rookie Damion Ratley, who watched a Mayfield pass at the tail end of a gadget play sail right through his hands. Ratley at least recovered to catch six balls for 82 yards. . . . . Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston, who will face the Browns Sunday, is 1-10 in his last 11 starts. . . . His offense was running so smoothly against the Browns, Rivers threw only 20 passes. . . . At one point, the Chargers scored touchdowns on four of five possessions. . . . The Browns have not won a road game since Oct 11, 2015. That’s 23 games ago. . . . The Browns owned the ball for 20 minutes and 13 seconds in the first half and trailed, 21-6. They had it for only 8:10 in the second half. . . . Defensive end Myles Garrett logged one unassisted tackle and two quarterback huts. That’s it. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: two carries for 36 yards (to lead the team), four receptions for 73 yards. Total: Six touches for 109 yards. Why only six touches on 35 snaps? Why only 35 (out of 74 total) snaps?