3 Takeaways from the Cleveland Browns' Week 16 Loss

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIDecember 27, 2021

3 Takeaways from the Cleveland Browns' Week 16 Loss

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    It's not too common for a last-place team to still have a chance to win its division with only two weeks to go in the regular season. But that's the situation for the Cleveland Browns, who are 7-8 and in fourth place in the AFC North.

    If the Browns are going to make a surprise run to the division title, they are going to need to play better than they have been of late. On Christmas Day, Cleveland lost 24-22 to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, continuing its recent struggles.

    The Browns tried to put together a game-winning drive in the final minute, but Baker Mayfield was intercepted by Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas on a 3rd-and-10 at the 50-yard line with 50 seconds to go. Green Bay sealed its win by picking up a first down and running out the clock on its ensuing drive.

    Here are three takeaways from Cleveland's Week 16 loss.

Mayfield's Costly Mistakes Held Back the Offense

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Baker Mayfield is having a tough season, and that continued Saturday. After missing the Browns' Week 15 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders while on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Mayfield returned and threw a career-high four interceptions against the Packers.

    Three of Mayfield's interceptions came in the first half, and Green Bay capitalized by scoring a touchdown on its ensuing drive after each of those turnovers. Mayfield's fourth interception was his most costly, though, as it came while he was trying to lead Cleveland on a game-winning drive. It had the ball at midfield and only needed a field goal to win when Mayfield was picked off for a final time.

    "It was just missed throws," Mayfield said, per Steve Megargee of the Associated Press. "Uncharacteristic, and I hurt this team."

    Although Mayfield had thrown only seven interceptions over his first 12 games this season, he hasn't thrown more than two touchdown passes in any matchup this year. He also hasn't passed for 300 yards since Week 5.

    If Mayfield's struggles continue, the Brown may want to lean even heavier on their running game. Nick Chubb had 17 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown Saturday and is one of the top running backs in the league.

The Defense Made It a Winnable Game Despite Being Short-Handed

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    Cleveland's defense was missing some key players Saturday. Safety John Johnson III was out because of a hamstring injury, while several other starters were on the reserve/COVID-19 list and couldn't suit up. So it seemed like Green Bay's offense was going to have a great deal of success.

    That was the case early in the game, with the Packers scoring three touchdowns in the first half, all of which came on passes by Aaron Rodgers. However, they didn't move the ball as effectively in the second half, as they were held to three points by the Browns defense.

    After Mason Crosby kicked a 32-yard field goal on Green Bay's opening drive of the second half, the Browns forced the Packers to punt on their next three possessions. Cleveland capitalized and got back into the game, with Mayfield's 5-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Schwartz with 4 minutes, 31 seconds to go making it 24-22. But the Browns couldn't complete the comeback and pull out a win.

    "It's frustrating for everybody watching," Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett said, per Ashley Bastock of Cleveland.com. "If you're a Browns fan, you're frustrated. If you're a Browns player you're frustrated. If you have anything to do with us, you know that we've had our chances."

    The defense provided the team with one of those chances Saturday with its solid second-half play, but it still wasn't quite enough. It was still an encouraging showing, though, as the Browns should get back some of their missing defensive players soon.

The Browns Have a Difficult Path to the Playoffs

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    According to FiveThirtyEight, the Browns' odds of reaching the playoffs and winning the AFC North are both at 11 percent. So while they could still end up passing the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers to capture the division title and make the postseason, it's unlikely.

    Cleveland (7-8) is two games back of Cincinnati (9-6), which will have a chance to clinch the AFC North title in Week 17. Baltimore (8-7) is also in a playoff position as the No. 7 seed in the AFC, while Pittsburgh is still in the running at 7-7-1.

    But the reason why the Browns' path is so difficult is because their final two games are against division rivals. In Week 17, they will go on the road to face the Steelers, who beat them 15-10 in Week 8. Cleveland closes the regular season at home against Cincinnati, which it beat 41-16 in Week 9. But the Bengals and Browns are also different teams than they in their first meeting this year.

    It's possible Cleveland could turn things around, but it has lost seven of its 11 games since the last time it had a winning streak (three straight games from Weeks 2-4). And it is set to face two teams that are also in the competitive AFC North race, including the leader.

    So if the Browns are going to make the playoffs for the second straight season, they will have to successfully navigate this difficult path while also hoping the teams around them lose out.