Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and quarterback Baker Mayfield were full of remorse after the team’s 23-16 loss to the New York Jets at the Met Life Stadium on Sunday. It can be argued, however, that the Browns’ failure to comply with COVID-19 regulations during a strange 2020 season were more reason for the team’s defeat rather than anything that the coaches or senior players did on Sunday.
The Browns were missing their top four wide receivers, including starters Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, after they were deemed to have been in close contact with an individual who had tested positive for COVID-19. That individual was Browns linebacker BJ Goodson. Saturday afternoon for the Browns therefore consisted of them struggling to include players from the practice squad. There was also a somewhat bizarre Sunday morning walkthrough in parking lot close to the team hotel as they battled to get the players up to speed.
COVID-19 regulations strike again
That disrupted to personnel and preparation was the likeliest strongest contributor to the loss to a pretty poor Jets outfit. The Browns’ day was epitomised by the play that they ran with 95 seconds remaining in the game.
The Browns were facing a second-and-10 from the Jets’ 25-yard line when Mayfield opted to throw a pass to rookie practice-squad call-up Ja’Marcus Bradley. The receiver, just yards from the goal line but between two defenders, failed to reach the ball. The drive would end two players later when Mayfield fumbled the ball when attempting a sneak on the fourth down with just inches needed for a first down.
Stefanksi said afterwards: “I got outcoached. We got outplayed. We did the things you can’t do. We were minus-two in the turnover battle — you can’t do that. Penalties. Drops. Not good. That is going to get you beat, and it did so credit to the Jets.”
Mayfield acknowledged his own fault in a post-game Zoom conference that he cut short. “I failed this team. I put the ball on the ground three times,” he said. “There’s no excuse. Plain and simple. Obviously, I just need to hold on to the damn ball.”
Browns can still make the play-offs
Thankfully for Stefanski and Mayfield, the Browns still have a chance of making the play-offs, thanks to their impressive form throughout the rest of the season. They face the Pittsburgh Steelers next week and still have a chance of clinching a wild card place if they win. Victory would mean the Browns making the play-offs for the first time since 2002.
The Browns may well be helped by the Steelers, who beat Indianapolis on the weekend to claim top spot in the AFC North, resting players when the teams meet on Sunday. A win would mean that the breach of COVID-19 regulations could go down as an unfortunate footnote in Cleveland’s season.