Mayfield was vocal with his criticisms of head coach Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt after the Browns eked out a victory over the Baltimore Ravens, 24-22.
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“We did enough to win the game,” Mayfield said during the postgame press conference. “Check that box. We got conservative. We need to put that team away.”
A Tale of Two Halves in Browns’ Win Over Ravens
It is difficult to argue with Mayfield’s assessment after examining the game.
The first half saw the Browns jump on the Ravens 24-6, scoring two offensive touchdowns and a field goal to take a three-score lead into the locker room at halftime. Mayfield threw 20 passes, completing 16 of them for a total of 143 yards and 2 TDs.
“I thought [using a pass first offense] worked well for us while we were doing it,” Browns running back Nick Chubb told reporters after the game. “We passed well, and that did open things up for us.”
Then came the second half.
Nursing an 18-point lead against a depleted Ravens offense, Cleveland threw the ball just 12 times over the final 30 minutes and scored zero points. It felt a little like the Browns played not to lose over the final two quarters, a transition from what was clearly a play-to-win strategy in the first half.
In fairness, the context of the game allowed for a more conservative approach with a big lead. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson left the game early in the first half with an ankle injury. He was carted off the field and never returned.
Jackson was replaced in the lineup by backup QB Tyler Huntley, who Baltimore let loose early and often. Huntley went 28-for-37 through the air, passing for 270 yards and 1 TD. He also rushed the ball 6 times for 45 yards, per ESPN.
Another factor that may have played a role in the Browns’ decision to take a conservative approach is Mayfield’s health of late. The QB has been banged up for weeks and was listed on the team’s most recent injury report with a lingering foot issue, as well as a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.
However, Mayfield was always going to play Sunday and said that he felt things got back to something like normal in the first half.
“That’s the best I’ve felt since Week 2,” Mayfield said after the game.
Browns Leap Frog Two Teams in Division With Just One Win
The race for the AFC North crown is about as tight as it can be this year, as indicated by the Browns’ movement in the division following just one victory over the division-leading Ravens.
Cleveland moved to 7-6 and into a tie with the Cincinnati Bengals, over whom the Browns currently hold the tiebreaker. The teams will meet again in Cleveland for the final game of the regular season on January 9. The Bengals fell in overtime to the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, 26-23.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1) dropped to the AFC North basement after losing to the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football earlier in the week. After being defeated by the Browns, the Ravens are now 8-5.
Cleveland will jump from worst to first in the division over the span of just two weeks should the Browns defeat the Las Vegas Raiders at home next Saturday, coupled with a Ravens loss to the Green Bay Packers in Baltimore Sunday.
Were the NFL Playoffs to begin today, the Browns would be the first team on the outside looking in as the 8-seed. However, they share their 7-6 record with both the 7-seed Buffalo Bills and the 6-seed Indianapolis Colts. The Ravens are currently the 4-seed as leaders of the AFC North.