3 Takeaways from Browns' Week 17 Loss
The Cleveland Browns still have one more game to play during the regular season. However, it's now a guarantee that they won't be playing beyond Week 18.
Although Cleveland went into Week 17 with a chance to still get into the playoffs, that's no longer the case. On Monday night, the Browns fell to 7-9 with a 26-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. It wouldn't have mattered if Cleveland had won, though, as it was eliminated from postseason contention a day earlier.
It was the Browns' third consecutive loss, and their recent struggles caused them to fall out of both the AFC North and AFC wild-card races.
Cleveland cut Pittsburgh's lead to 19-14 with one minute and 10 seconds to go on Monday night, as Baker Mayfield threw a one-yard touchdown pass to Harrison Bryant. But the Steelers sealed the game only 19 seconds later when Najee Harris responded with a 37-yard touchdown run.
Here are three takeaways from the Browns' Week 17 loss.
Mayfield Should Be Done for the Season Amid Struggles, Pain
Mayfield has been playing through a shoulder injury for much of the season, and it was clear that was still the case Monday night. The Browns quarterback completed only 16 of his 38 pass attempts while throwing for 185 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He was also sacked nine times.
After the loss, Mayfield shared that he is planning to undergo shoulder surgery in the future so that he can get healthy for the 2022 season. However, it's undecided whether he'll play in Cleveland's season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 18.
"I've continued to lay it out on the line when I haven't been healthy and tried to fight for our guys," Mayfield said, per ESPN's Jake Trotter. "Right now, I'm pretty damn beat up, to be honest with you. There's no way around it. I gave it everything I had tonight."
But there's really no reason for Mayfield to play in the Browns' final game. There's nothing on the line for Cleveland, and Cincinnati has already clinched the AFC North title. And with Mayfield hurting, there's the potential for him to feel even worse after another game.
It's been a tough season for Mayfield, and there isn't anything to be gained by him playing it out. If he's still going to be the Browns' long-term answer at QB, then he should get healthy as soon as possible so he can go out in 2022 and prove it.
An Up-and-Down Night for Clowney on Defense
After missing the previous two games while on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Jadeveon Clowney made a big impact in his return to the Browns' defense on Monday night. He had six tackles and two sacks, boosting his season sack total to seven, which is his most since 2018 (nine).
However, Clowney also made a mistake early in the game that proved to be costly. And it was one that easily could have been avoided.
During Pittsburgh's opening drive of the second quarter, Clowney made a stop by tackling wide receiver Chase Claypool short of a first down on a 3rd-and-10 at Cleveland's 36-yard line. But Claypool's shoe came off and Clowney then threw it, which led to him getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
That decision extended the Steelers' drive, and they went on to score a touchdown that gave them a 7-0 lead. Perhaps things would have gone differently if Pittsburgh hadn't gotten into the end zone on that possession.
So while Clowney continues to be a force on the Browns' defensive front, he needs to make better decisions, as poor choices can end up hurting the team in a big way.
The Browns Could Be Back in Playoff Hunt in 2022
If the Browns would have made the playoffs this season, it would have marked the first time they reached the postseason in consecutive years since the franchise returned in 1999. They've only made the playoffs two total times (2002 and 2020) over that span.
However, there are reasons to believe that Cleveland could get back to the playoffs in the 2022 season. It had some bright spots this season, as it got off to a 3-1 start and had a winning record (7-6) at the end of Week 14. So this was still a better team than the Browns have had for much of the past two decades.
With plenty of strong, young players on both sides of the ball, Cleveland may only get better in the near future. And it's possible the team will make some moves during the upcoming offseason to further strengthen its roster and make it more of a contender.
So while the Browns will be finishing the 2021 season with a losing record, there should still be optimism for the future. That may not be evident in the finale against the Bengals (with nothing on the line), but things could look much better next season.