The Browns fell into a 20-point hole and never fully recovered Sunday en route to their first home loss of the 2021 season.
Kyler Murray and the undefeated Cardinals hit the Browns with two quick touchdowns and took advantage of some uncharacteristic Browns' turnovers and penalties to build a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Cleveland rallied a bit in the second quarter but couldn't sustain it in the second half, falling to the Cardinals, 37-14.
The loss is the Browns' second straight, marking the first time under Kevin Stefanski they've lost consecutive games. They'll carry a 3-3 record into Thursday Night Football against the Denver Broncos.
"We got beat," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "They did a nice job. Their players and coaches did a nice job, and we got beat. Minus-three turnover margin and 13 points off of turnovers. We are a 3-3 football team, and we played like it. We were just very, very average, and that is my responsibility to get it fixed."
Already without RB Nick Chubb and their top three offensive tackles, the banged-up Browns saw Baker Mayfield play through the pain of a left shoulder injury, Odell Beckham Jr. play through the pain of a right shoulder injury and RB Kareem Hunt leave in the fourth quarter with a calf injury.
The Browns have just four days to collect themselves and get ready for Thursday Night Football.
"These Thursday night games, everybody is in the same boat," Stefanski said. "The guys have to fight, scratch and claw to get to Thursday night. It is hard, but the bottom line is we have a game, and we are going to meet tomorrow and start on the Broncos first thing in the morning."
Trailing 23-14, Mayfield went down with 6:37 to play in the third quarter on a scramble that ended with him fumbling it away to the Cardinals. The fourth-year quarterback landed hard on his left shoulder, which was previously injured Week 2 against the Texans, and was on the turf for a few minutes before he walked off under his own power.
The Cardinals extended their lead to double-digits shortly thereafter, as Murray found a wide-open DeAndre Hopkins for a 9-yard touchdown to stretch the lead to 16 with 2:56 left in the third quarter.
Mayfield said he "absolutely" expected to start his 52nd straight game Thursday.
"It dislocated again and slipped out again on a non-contact play," Mayfield said. "Just have to figure out a way to get better."
Mayfield, playing without the NFL's second-leading rusher and his starting tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. (ankle) and Jack Conklin (knee), returned to the game directly after the injury and finished 19-of-28 for 234 yards, two touchdowns, two fumbles and an interception. Case Keenum took over late in the fourth quarter with the Browns facing an insurmountable deficit.
Murray hurt the Browns most on third downs, delivering a number of his biggest throws when the Browns desperately needed stops. He finished 20-of-30 for 229 yards and four touchdowns.
Hopkins caught two of those scores and finished with three receptions for 55 yards. A.J. Green (five catches, 79 yards) and Christian Kirk (five catches, 75 yards) caught the other two.
Arizona didn't out-gain the Browns by much but was deadly on third downs, converting 8-of-14.
"Right now, we have to find ourselves," DE Myles Garrett said. "We are not rushing like we are supposed to. We are not covering like we are supposed to."
Hunt rushed for 66 yards on 14 carries and added three receptions before going down with his injury, which came on the Browns' second failed fourth-down attempt of the game deep in Arizona territory.
Donovan Peoples-Jones led the Browns with four receptions for 101 yards and two touchdowns, including a 57-yarder on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Beckham added five catches for 79 yards.
The Browns fell into a 20-point hole before they were able to add anything to their side of the scoreboard.
Third down was a troublespot for Cleveland's defense entering Sunday's game, and it continued in the worst way in the first half. Arizona faced a third-and-19 when it got its first touchdown, a 21-yard strike from Murray to Kirk. The Cardinals had third-and-goal from the 13 when Murray found Hopkins, who caught a pass well short of the goal line but was able to shake multiple Browns defenders on the way to a touchdown that staked Arizona to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
From there, it got worse before it got better. The Browns committed turnovers on back-to-back possessions — Mayfield fumble and Mayfield interception — and the Cardinals turned them into two Matt Prater field goals to take a 20-0 lead.
Cleveland's offense finally got rolling midway through the second quarter, when Peoples-Jones' 11-yard touchdown catch capped an eight-play, 75-yard drive, and sliced into Arizona's 20-point advantage.
Peoples-Jones was in the right place at the right time to send the Browns into halftime with a jolt of momentum.
With 3 seconds to play and no timeouts remaining, Mayfield escaped pressure and looked long at a cluster of Browns players in the end zone. He heaved the pass 66.4 yards through the air (according to NFL Next Gen Stats) and hit Peoples-Jones square in the hands. It went in the books as a 57-yard touchdown, and the Browns were suddenly down just nine, 23-14, at the half.
It turned out to be a short-lived jolt of momentum, as Arizona controlled the second half to win its sixth game in as many weeks.
"We got out-played. We got out-coached. Tip your cap to the Cardinals. That is a good football team," Stefanski said. "We got beat and it does not feel good, but we have to lick our wounds, we have to come in tomorrow and move on. That is just how you have to do it when you have a game Thursday night."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Cardinals in week six