Game Day

Browns grasp with falling short of playoff goal after loss to Ravens

Baker Mayfield took the podium outside the locker room at FirstEnergy Stadium, looked down and exhaled.

It was the quarterback's last time he'd stand in that spot in his home stadium this season after the Browns were eliminated from playoff contention with their 31-15 loss to the Ravens. That put a disappointing cap on Cleveland's final home game in a season with high expectations that didn't always translate to successful results.

"Anytime you close out the season at home with a loss is not a great taste to leave with," Mayfield said. "There's a lot of room to work and improve. That's just the bottom line. There's a lot of room for progress to be made, and that's how we have to handle it."

Four months ago, the Browns expected to have the same kind of season as their AFC North opponent.

The Ravens will have the No. 1 seed in the AFC and secured home field advantage through the entirety of the conference playoffs. They've built an offense that has found success with both the run and pass, and its defense has supported those points with late-game stops and turnovers.

Cleveland expected to have a similar winning formula in 2019. Instead, the Browns entered Sunday with a 6-8 record and fringe playoff hopes, but if they could stop the Ravens for their second win against Baltimore, they could keep their postseason expectations alive for the final week of the season.

After the first quarter, that didn't seem nearly as far-fetched.

The Browns shut out the Ravens in the first 15 minutes for the second time this season and have been the only team to keep Baltimore off the scoreboard in a first quarter thus far. The defense was stout — it held the Ravens to 79 total yards — and the offense built a 6-0 lead after Mayfield found Demetrius Harris with a perfect pass in the end zone.

But then the Browns reverted to the same inconsistent play that has ultimately made the season feel like a disappointment.

With just under 2 minutes in the first half, the Browns allowed the Ravens to score 14 points on only nine plays. All but two of those plays went for at least 10 yards.

Check out photos of players getting ready to face the Ravens Sunday

"They hit a couple big plays that got chunks of yardage," coach Freddie Kitchens said. "That one drive was two plays. That can't happen."

Cleveland never recovered in the second half. Mayfield found Odell Beckham Jr. for a touchdown that cut the Ravens' lead to 24-15, but it was too late — both in the scope of the game and the season — for the touchdown to prove meaningful.

With one game to play, Beckham, who has battled a hip/groin injury since training camp, has caught three touchdowns this season. The injury has hampered the expected production between Beckham and Mayfield, but Mayfield is hopeful the duo can make an improvement next season.

"Teams have played us differently, so we just have to take advantage of our one-on-ones," Mayfield said. "That was just one of them where we trust our guy to make a play, and (Beckham) did."

That's just one area, however, where the Browns will strive to improve for next season. Sunday's loss showcased a little bit of everything that has plagued the Browns: failure on third down, a lack of expected offensive production and too many defensive breakdowns for big plays.

Sure, the loss came against arguably the best team in the NFL, but that's who the Browns wanted to be this season.

Sunday showed how far they were from meeting that goal.

Cleveland has a chance next week against Cincinnati to meet the same win total, seven, as last season, but the loss Sunday officially closed the books on the playoff hopes the Browns had from the first day of training camp.

So, when Mayfield evaluated the season, he had no choice but to be blunt.

"We set the bar high for ourselves," he said. "Our expectations were extremely high, and we didn't meet that, so that's the most disappointing thing. In the big picture mindset, it's a process. There's a lot of room for improvement and progress has to be made."

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