Week 18: Adding Insult to Injury
Browns 21, Cincinnati 16
Summary: Who cares?
The key moment: When the NFL decided to add a meaningless 17th game to this frustrating season.
Happiness level: 5. It’s always better when the Browns win, even if the games don’t matter. But at the same time, the Steelers made the playoffs in the most absurd and dramatic fashion, and that definitely brings down my Cleveland happiness level.
OK, so our younger daughter, Katie, who many of you know is a big Browns fan, couldn’t watch this game because she had homework to do, and also because the game didn’t matter. Still, she kept asking for updates, not only on the status of the game and her favorite players — did Myles Garrett get a sack? Is Nick Chubb playing? How’s D’Ernest Johnson looking? — but on an even bigger question:
“Will Baker Mayfield be back next year?”
I told her that the Browns weren’t going to announce anything about Mayfield DURING THIS GAME but, didn’t matter, she kept texting me questions about Baker, was he on the sideline, what was his demeanor, was there a new Progressive commercial, does it look like he will be the Browns quarterback next year, on and on and on.
Mayfield was on the sideline — he is having surgery on his wrecked left shoulder next week — and he seemed reasonably peppy. Who can really tell about such things? The game itself felt like an exhibition, the Bengals rested most of their starters (they did play rookie Ja’Marr Chase long enough for him to set the Bengals’ single-season receiving record), and the Browns with Case Keenum at quarterback went back to the power-running attack that they had abandoned for some reason. They ran the ball 41 times — at one point slamming Johnson into the line nine plays in a row — and threw it just 24.
And Cleveland really never felt in danger of losing. They took a 14-0 lead, made it 21-10 after the fourth quarter D’Ernest Drive, and put things away by recovering the onside kick.
This may be a controversial thing to say, but I just don’t think that the Bengals quarterback on Sunday, Brandon Allen, is as good as Joe Burrow.
All in all, I don’t think we learned anything. Even with the win, this was the Browns’ 20th losing season since the team’s re-founding 23 years ago. They will have the 13th pick in the NFL draft — it would have been the 12th pick had they lost, but that’s hardly a big thing.
By the way: Here’s what they wrote about the Browns’ draft needs on NFL.com:
“After a promising 3-1 start, the Browns’ season devolved into an injury-riddled calamity. The reset for 2022 will center on improving the defense.”
Hmm, is that how you saw the season? I have to say, that’s not how I saw it. I thought the Browns defense was, at times, quite good. Sure, they could use some more dynamic play at linebacker and I really hope they bring back Jadeveon Clowney, but I didn’t think the defense was this team’s big problem.
Instead, I thought the big problem was that they lacked offensive playmakers, which was really weird because as the season began the Browns seemed to be overloaded with playmakers — Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, three dynamic pass-catching tight ends, etc. They seemed so set with playmakers that you wondered how they would even work in an exciting young player like Donovan Peoples-Jones.
And one by one — with the exception of Chubb — the playmakers disappeared because of injury or some inexplicable disconnect. OBJ and Mayfield couldn’t get on the same page. Landry was injured and then unhappy. Hunt got hurt. And I still don’t know what happened with the tight ends, Austin Hooper, David Njoku and Harrison Bryant.