3 Takeaways from Browns' Week 15 Loss

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 21, 2021

3 Takeaways from Browns' Week 15 Loss

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns were one drive away from pulling off one of the most improbable victories of the 2021 NFL season. 

    Cleveland took the lead over the Las Vegas Raiders with three minutes and 45 seconds left in the contest, but its depleted defense could not come up with one more stop. 

    Derek Carr picked out the weaknesses in the Cleveland secondary to lead the Raiders on a game-winning drive that flipped the complexion of the AFC wild-card race.

    Cleveland now finds itself in 12th place in the AFC near the bottom of the list of 7-7 teams. A head-to-head win over the Denver Broncos kept it out of 13th place. 

    The Browns are not completely out of the playoff hunt yet, but they need to win out and have some help around them to feel comfortable about getting in now. 

Depleted Defense Held Its Own for Most of the Game

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    Nick Cammett/Getty Images

    Cleveland was hit hardest by its COVID-19-related absences on the defensive side of the ball. 

    The Browns were without their first two quarterbacks on offense, but Nick Mullens had previous starting experience in the NFL, so the drop-off was not as significant as it was at some defensive positions.

    Cleveland did not have Ronnie Harrison, Greg Newsome, Troy Hill or Grant Delpit available, and John Johnson was activated on Monday from the COVID-19/reserve list. The depleted defense was also without Jadeveon Clowney, Mack Wilson and Malik McDowell up front. 

    Led by Myles Garrett, the Browns defense held its own for most of the contest. It allowed a single touchdown-scoring drive, and that came in the first quarter. 

    The Browns held firm by conceding two field goals between the start of the second quarter and the final minute of the fourth period. 

    The final drive finally broke the Browns, as Derek Carr picked out Zay Jones for gains for 12 and 15 yards and hit Foster Moreau for a 12-yard pass. Carr finally found the soft spots in the Browns secondary and did the AFC North side in. 

    The unsuccessful stop on the final drive placed Cleveland back at .500 with a less-than-ideal situation to get back into the postseason mix. 

Nick Mullens Put Browns in a Spot to Win

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Nick Mullens did the best he could for a third-string quarterback with few practice reps inside the Cleveland offense. 

    Mullens led the Browns on two scoring drives in the second half to pull ahead of the Raiders deep into the fourth quarter.

    The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback led the Browns on an 80-yard scoring drive in the third quarter that ended in a Nick Chubb touchdown run. 

    Mullens connected with Donovan Peoples-Jones for two long gains on that drive to set up Chubb's four-yard burst into the end zone. 

    The fill-in for Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum displayed his veteran prowess on the second scoring drive, as he scrambled to keep a fourth-down play alive and hit Harrison Bryant in the end zone. 

    Mullens went 20-of-30 for 147 passing yards. He did not turn the ball over, and he received 93 yards of support on the ground from Chubb.

    He did enough to keep the Browns in the contest, and that is all the team could have asked for in its difficult situation. 

No Margin of Error Left in Postseason Chase

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The AFC playoff race is so tight that the Browns would have led the AFC North with a win on Monday.

    Instead, the Browns are in 12th as the second-worst team left in playoff contention only ahead of the Denver Broncos, who they defeated in Week 7. 

    Cleveland has head-to-head losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and Raiders, and it has a worse conference record than every team ahead of it in the standings. 

    To make matters worse, the Browns make a trip to Lambeau Field in Week 16 on short rest with the game set for Saturday. 

    Cleveland could fall to 7-8 with little chance of qualifying for the postseason ahead of its final two games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals

    The Browns must win their final two divisional games to give themselves a chance to earn one of the seven playoff positions. 

    A win in Green Bay would make life easier for Cleveland, but that seems unlikely with the way Aaron Rodgers is playing. 

    Cleveland needed to win at home on Monday regardless of what its roster situation was, and now it has to win out and have some help to either place first in the AFC North or land in one of the three wild-card positions.