Packers 24, Browns 22
Summary: Inaccurate passing, curious play calling and terrible officiating …
The key moment: I suppose it was the missed pass interference/holding penalty but in a game like this, there are countless key moments … including a missed extra point by somebody named Chris Naggar.
Happiness level (scale of 1-to-10): 3. I honestly didn’t expect the Browns to win at Lambeau Field on Christmas Day. The fact that they almost won — and there’s an argument to be made that they SHOULD have won — pretty much sums up this season of near misses and bad breaks and underachievement.
Sure, we could spend this entire essay complaining about the blown call. It was that egregious. As far as I know, more or less the entire job of back judge Scott Helverson is to watch and see if a defensive back reaches out and grabs a receiver’s jersey, the way Green Bay’s Rasul Douglas grabbed Donovan Peoples-Jones’ jersey before intercepting Baker Mayfield’s final throw and ending the Browns’ comeback. It was as obvious a penalty as you will ever see — holding, pass interference, SOMETHING — but Helverson and all the other officials totally missed it, and we have every right as Browns fans to bathe in the misery and unfairness of it all.
That’s part of the deal we get as fans of NFL teams.
And, hey, if we want, we can start connecting it to other blown calls, like the blown false start call that should have been an offsides penalty on the Packers or the way a defensive back mugged the receiver on Mayfield’s first interception. That’s less tempting because I’m sure Green Bay fans can point to blown calls that went against the Packers, calls we Browns fans didn’t notice or care about because they went our way. Football is simply too violent and chaotic to be properly officiated, and so every game has blown calls left and right, and, for the most part, only the wronged party notices.*
*Though I will say I heard from numerous Packers fans who definitely acknowledged the blown holding/PI call at the end.
Point is: It’s our right as fans to feel cheated, especially when there’s such a flagrant missed call at the end, with the game on the line.
But here’s the thing: The Browns are 7-8 now, and even though they have a vague shot at the playoffs if they win their final two games — I really despise this stupid 17-game season — there is a much bigger question looming, one that we’ve been holding off on for a long time now.
Can the Cleveland Browns get to the Super Bowl with Baker Mayfield at quarterback?
We are getting close to the point where the Browns are going to have to make that call and answer the question best they can. For various reasons, they will have to decide yea or nay on Baker at the end of this season.
And the team’s future depends entirely on them answering it right.
So what should they do? Well, let’s start with this: Here are the last 10 quarterbacks to get to the Super Bowl out of the AFC:
LV: Patrick Mahomes
LIV: Patrick Mahomes
LIII: Tom Brady
LII: Tom Brady
LI: Tom Brady
50: Peyton Manning
XLIX: Tom Brady
XLVIII: Peyton Manning
XLVII: Joe Flacco
XLVI: Tom Brady
OK, so you have three of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history … and the italicized Joe Flacco. I italicized Flacco because he shows that it’s POSSIBLE in today’s AFC to get to the Super Bowl without an all-timer at quarterback … but you have to thread the needle to make it happen. The Ravens put together one of the greatest defenses ever, they had a super-powerful running game, and then they won the division with a 10-6 record, won at Denver, then won at New England. I’m not sure you want to try to repeat that formula.
*The same really goes for the Broncos getting to Super Bowl XLVIII. Yes, the Broncos’ quarterback was Peyton Manning, but he was finished by then; heck, Brock Osweiler started seven games that season. But the Broncos had a dominating defense, a great running game and Manning still had just enough genius left to deliver in the biggest moments.
The point is that for the Browns to finally, finally, finally get to their first Super Bowl, they almost certainly need a great quarterback — or at least a quarterback who can rise up and play great for a season.
Can Baker Mayfield be that guy?
Let’s look at some sobering facts first. His quarterback rating this year is one of the lowest in the NFL, down in the basement with Sam Darnold and Jared Goff and Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence. He has been absolutely terrible under pressure. He has not led even one game-winning drive despite being given multiple chances, including Sunday.