The Browns are back in the thick of a congested AFC playoff race after downing the Ravens, 24-22, on a sunny Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
We're getting things rolling with the offense, as the Browns put up their most first-half points since Week 9 to take a lead they wouldn't relinquish and ride it all the way to a win.
1. Browns offense's productive 1st half a step in right direction
It was enough to win.
That's as far as Baker Mayfield would go in describing the Browns offense's performance in Sunday's 24-22 victory over the Ravens. All 24 points came in the first half, as Cleveland's offense scored 17 straight points to open the game and then saw its lead padded when DE Myles Garrett recovered his own forced fumble and scored a touchdown to stake the Browns to a 24-6 halftime advantage.
In just that half, alone, the Browns cleared thresholds that had been tough to hit in recent weeks. In the previous seven games, Cleveland scored more than 20 points just once, and it managed just 10 two weeks earlier in a loss at Baltimore.
After a bye week devoted to resting and retooling areas the Browns hoped to improve, this was progress the Browns were able to embrace even though a scoreless second half gave them plenty to build upon.
"We did enough to win the game so check that box off," Mayfield said. "We got conservative. I think we need to put that team away. We got ahead early. We just need to capitalize when the defense is playing like that and holding them to points. We need to put it away. That's what good teams do, so we need to improve on that."
Sunday, though, was good enough thanks to back-to-back touchdown drives in which Mayfield distributed the ball as well as he has all season.
The Browns got rolling when Mayfield connected with Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 34-yard completion on third-and-4 — the Browns' first of six third-down conversions for the game. He finished the drive a perfect 4-for-4 when he connected with Jarvis Landry for the veteran receiver's first receiving touchdown of the season to stake the Browns to a 10-point advantage.
On the ensuing possession, Mayfield went 5-for-5, including a 27-yard, highlight-reel completion to Peoples-Jones and a 1-yard touchdown pass to TE Austin Hooper to stake the Browns to their biggest lead since Week 9.
"I liked that we were efficient on first and second down for the most part," Mayfield said. "We kept it manageable on third down. That is why we were a lot better today so we need to keep improving on that."
The Browns mounted multiple lengthy drives in the second half but couldn't add any more points to their lead. Penalties put a damper on a 10-play possession in the third quarter that ended with a punt, and K Chase McLaughlin missed a field goal after the Browns drove 52 yards on 11 plays early in the fourth quarter.
It wasn't the finish Cleveland wanted, but it was the start the offense can build upon as it faces four more big games down the stretch starting Saturday against the Raiders.
"We have a high standard for our team, for our offense, for our pass offense, rush offense or you name it," Stefanski said. "The guys took it to heart. We worked hard this week. "Ultimately, we did what we set out to do, which is come in here and get a win versus a good team in our division, and then we will set our sights on next week tomorrow."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Ravens in Week 14
2. Hunt Update
The Browns opened Sunday's game by utilizing Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb on the field at the same time for a handful of plays, marking one of the first such stretches since Stefanski became the head coach. Unfortunately, it didn't last long, as Hunt exited in the first quarter with an ankle injury.
Hunt took a hard hit from Ravens CB Geno Stone after catching a third-down pass on a Browns scoring drive. He retreated to the locker room but stood with the team on the sidelines throughout the second half.
Stefanski said Hunt wanted to fight through it, but he ultimately decided to keep him on the sidelines. The team will get a better sense of his timetable Monday.
"Hopefully, it is nothing serious," Mayfield said. "I have not really talked to Kareem. He seemed like he was in good spirits and positive for next week so we will see."
3. Praise for Clowney
Jadeveon Clowney delivered one of his best plays in a Browns uniform when the Browns needed it most late in Sunday's fourth quarter.
On their heels after the Ravens recovered an onsides kick, the Browns stopped Baltimore cold in its tracks on four plays. A big reason why was what Clowney did on second down, when he chased down Ravens QB Tyler Huntley and drove him to the ground for a 10-yard loss to set up a third-and-20.
"I just felt that we needed to make a play," Clowney said. "I said somebody needs to make a big play for us right now, we just need a play and I tried to make one."
The sack was No. 5 on the season for Clowney, whose impact has gone well beyond the stat sheet. He's been a relentless force on the edge opposite from Garrett, and he's been a constant presence in opponents' backfields.
"JD plays really hard," Stefanski said. "His length, his size and his ability to get off of the ball fits with what we are trying to do. He affects the plays. I know everybody gets wrapped up in sacks – that was certainly a big one there on that last drive – but we really put the emphasis on pressure and how you affect the quarterback. I think he does that at a really high level."