Baker Mayfield studied the NRG Stadium scoreboard before jogging to the sidelines to see where he went wrong on his third interception of the first half.
The first two were small mistakes, easy to refine and correct. On the first one, Antonio Callaway didn't run a crisp enough route. Mayfield should’ve thrown the ball a touch earlier, too. Callaway should’ve been a little more aggressive on the second one. And again, Mayfield could’ve thrown it earlier.
This third one, though? The one where Mayfield threw the ball 40 yards downfield to a triple-covered David Njoku in the end zone? When Mayfield probably could’ve just run for a first down?
“That’s just a dumb throw,” Mayfield said. “David should’ve had the ball there earlier. It was (Cover-two-man coverage), he had the win down the middle and he (was open) early. (I) stepped up in the pocket and, yeah, that’s where the ball should’ve gone, but not that late, and that’s what happens when you force something late.”
The Browns lost 29-13 to the Texans on Sunday, largely because their promising young quarterback turned the ball over on three straight series in the second quarter. The Browns were excited to prove themselves against the hottest team in the league, to be taken seriously as a playoff contender, to use this game as a benchmark to show how much they’d grown.
But the Browns left Houston on Sunday not really knowing how they stack up with the 9-3 Texans. Turnovers inflated the difference Sunday.
The Cleveland Browns play the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.
“That game doesn’t reflect how close we actually were,” Mayfield said. “We were very close on a lot of things. I have to get better and I’ll handle that, there’s no doubt about that.”
Mayfield improved on his mistakes immediately. After his nightmarish first half, he threw for 351 yards and a touchdown in the second. Gregg Williams called him fearless; Joel Bitonio called him resilient. Myles Garrett said Mayfield has the chance to be atop the quarterback stat columns some day.
None of it mattered to Mayfield. To him, the second-half successes only underlined his first-half failures.
“That’s how the first half should’ve gone if we executed our stuff,” Mayfield said. “If we do the little things right, we can be a great offense. We saw a glimpse of that in the second half. But unfortunately, I put us in a deep enough hole to where it didn't matter.”
It’s true. The Browns were minus-four in turnover differential Sunday, which, as Damarious Randall put it, “Will get you beat by 21.”
The Browns only lost by 16, and it could’ve been even closer if either of Callaway’s 70-plus-yard catches on the Browns’ second drive of the third quarter amounted to anything other than a costly turnover.
The first one was a touchdown called back for a holding penalty on Greg Robinson. On the next play, Mayfield again found Callaway, who made an impressive contested catch and looked a sure bet to score. Instead, he veered into safety Justin Reid’s path as he approached the end zone. Reid punched the ball out, and the Texans recovered it.
As Callaway laid distraught in the end zone with his hands on his helmet, Mayfield ran toward Callaway. Once Callaway stood up, Mayfield grabbed Callaway’s helmet and emphasized how great of a play the receiver made before the fumble. And though the Browns’ fourth turnover drained the juice out of a potential comeback, Mayfield didn’t accept it as the reason the Browns lost. That blame, he said, lays firmly at his feet.
“Absolutely,” Mayfield said when asked if he’s taking the blame for the loss. “You got one of the best defensive fronts in football (recording) zero sacks. Guys were out there making plays. It’s on me to take care of the ball. Because if we do that in the first half, we’re definitely in that game. There’s zero question about it. We had the things we wanted. I just gotta be able to execute them.”