Photo: Dave Spano
There should have been a mask mandate for fans of the Cleveland Browns Sunday. Not the kind of mask you’re thinking about. This is a mask that fits neatly over one’s eyes, which would have kept fans from watching the debacle that was a 45-7 loss to the resurgent New England Patriots.
All looked promising after a picture-perfect 79-yard drive to open the game. Baker Mayfield completed a 2-yard scoring pass to tight end Austin Hooper to give the Browns a 7-0 lead. It was all downhill from that point on as the Patriots resembled any of their Super Bowl winning teams in what was a thorough beat down of the now 5-5 Browns.
Rookie quarterback Mac Jones continued to look like the steal of the draft in throwing for 198 yards and three touchdowns, while the Patriots defense limited Mayfield to just 81 yards on 8-of-12 passing before he exited with a leg injury in the fourth quarter.
Browns fans will undoubtedly spend much of the coming week blasting Mayfield, along with coach Kevin Stefanski and defensive coordinator Joe Woods, but there’s enough blame to spread out over the entire roster. This wasn’t a scheme loss. This was old-school, smash-mouth football that saw the Patriots, winners of four straight, take the Browns to the woodshed.
Mayfield was baffled and battered by a relentless defensive assault that made the Browns high-priced offensive line look poor. But far worse than the abysmal offensive showing was a defensive effort that harkened memories of 2000, when then-coach Chris Palmer preceded by days his firing by telling the media in an off-the-cuff comment that he felt like a person sitting on a runaway train.
If the Browns hadn’t entered play with a 5-4 record and a chance to move closer tothe top of the AFC North, you could easily say the defense quit on Stefanski. However, Stefanski is in no danger of losing his job, and there’s no indication that he has lost the locker room in any way, shape or form.
The good news — if there can be such a thing in a blowout loss — is that the AFC North was collectively terrible in week 10. The first-place Baltimore Ravens lost to the Miami Dolphins last Thursday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers tied the winless Detroit Lions, 16-16. The Cincinnati Bengals, who had been slipping of late, were idle.
Where the Browns go from here — other than back to the drawing board — is hard to tell, but it’s obvious that a home game against the Lions next Sunday qualifies as a must-win. Even a win over the Lions, however, won’t change the fact that the Browns appear flawed in several areas (receiver and linebackers stand out) and, barring something dramatic, are headed for their 21st season with a playoff appearance in the 23 years since their return to the NFL in 1999.
Some things never seem to change.