GLENDALE, Arizona -- We're breaking down the biggest storylines from the Browns' 38-24 loss to the Cardinals.
1. Slow start puts Browns in a bind they can't overcome vs. Cardinals
After hitting the midpoint of the season at 2-6, the Browns turned around their season when they started beginning games with a flurry. In three consecutive victories at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns opened with a touchdown and rarely trailed.
All season long, the Browns have had issues trying to mount comebacks, especially ones that came late in the action. Of the team's six wins, only one (Buffalo) featured a deficit at any point in the second half.
That's what made Sunday's game such a challenge for the Browns, who were down by a touchdown less than 5 minutes into the game and trailed the rest of the way. The closest Cleveland got was within 4 points on two occasions, but the Cardinals responded both times to carry multiple score leads into the half and into the locker room when the game came to an end.
That's the main reason why the Browns' playoff hopes were all but diminished on a frustrating day in the desert.
"When you show up, you're supposed perform at a higher level," Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. "So I'm assuming have to revisit what I did earlier in the week to see if I can get them better for the game on Sunday."
Cleveland had a shot to even the score after Arizona's early barrage, but a costly interception put a disappointing end to a promising possession. Baker Mayfield sailed a pass to Odell Beckham Jr., and was intercepted by Patrick Peterson.
It was the first of three opportunities missed by the Browns to get back in the game.
"Ball was just too high," Mayfield said. "Obviously Patrick Peterson is a veteran player. He understands the concepts and played behind it. He played it well. Just have to get through the reads next time to make the throw."
The Browns got back in the game thanks to a 33-yard Nick Chubb touchdown run and had a chance to tie it midway through the second quarter after a Mack Wilson interception, the first of his NFL career. Cleveland took over at Arizona's 28-yard line but couldn't convert a first down. The Browns settled for a field goal to make the score 14-10, but trailed by 11 at halftime after the Cardinals scored with just 25 seconds left in the second quarter.
Chubb's running helped Cleveland make the score 21-17 after a lengthy drive to start the second half. The defense followed with a stop, and the Browns had the ball back with a chance to cut even more into the Cardinals' advantage, or even take the lead. Instead, the Browns went three-and-out, and that'd be the last time the Browns had the ball trailing by just a single possession.
"We started slow," Mayfield said. "We were playing from behind the whole game. That's pretty much the tale of the tape."
Check out photos of the Browns in action against the Cardinals
2. Rush defense struggles hit their peak
The Browns defense came into Sunday's game hoping to put an end to their struggles in the run game. Instead, they only got worse, as Cleveland surrendered 226 yards on the ground -- the second-most it's allowed all season behind the 275 posted by San Francisco in Week 5 -- and allowed Kenyan Drake to score four times.
Arizona averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Three different players -- Drake, Kyler Murray and Christian Kirk -- had at least one run of 20 yards or longer.
"I think we had guys in position to make plays," Kitchens said. "We'll see what we can do differently as coaches. On several instances, we had guys there to make the play. We just have to make them. I have to do a better job at the course of the week to get them to the point they can make that play."
In the last three games, Cleveland has allowed 124, 179 and now 226 yards on the ground. In the previous three -- all wins -- it was a combined 234.
Poor tackling wasn't the culprit on every occasion -- sometimes runners simply burst through open holes -- but it cropped up on a handful of plays. The Browns will look to fix those issues in the next couple of days because the challenge only grows next week against the Ravens, who average 202 rushing yards per game -- 53 better than the next-best team.
"Anytime you average 8 yards per play, there has to be missed tackles somewhere along the way," Kitchens said. "We had them in the backfield a couple times. We have to take those opportunities, correct them and get better at them."
3. Nick Chubb's special season continues
Chubb will be the last person to feel good about a game like Sunday's, but his performance certainly didn't disappoint. He'll enter Week 16 as the NFL's leading rusher and is poised to move even higher on the Browns' all-time list for the best season by a running back.
With 127 more yards, Chubb is now tied for fifth for most yards in a single season with 1,408. The top four season marks are all owned by Jim Brown, and Chubb is just 39 yards away from moving into fourth all by himself. If he hits his average of 100+ yards per game over the final two games, he'll move all the way to second behind Brown's 1963 record season of 1,863.
Chubb came into Sunday's game with a 38-yard advantage over Tennessee's Derrick Henry and a 61-yard edge over Carolina's Christian McCaffrey. He outrushed both of them, and now holds a 79-yard edge over Henry and a 101-yard advantage over McCaffrey.
If Chubb wins the rushing title, he'd be the first Browns player to do so since Leroy Kelly in 1968.
Chubb's streak of 14 straight games with at least 75 scrimmage yards is the best in the NFL and the longest streak in Browns history. His seven 100-yard games are tied for fifth-most in team history.