The bright lights of Sunday Night Football shined on Cleveland for the first time in 11 years, but the wait will continue for the Browns’ first win at home in 2019.
The defending NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams took control of a back-and-forth game early in the fourth quarter, and the Browns never found the proper counter-punch in the 20-13 loss.
The Browns either led or trailed by a single possession throughout the primetime showdown but ultimately couldn’t complete the comeback after Cooper Kupp’s second of two second-half touchdown catches.
"I was proud of the way these guys competed tonight," Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. "They fought their ass off until the very end. We just came up short. We do not get any second place finish trophies in this business, but we will keep fighting. I was proud of the way the defense battled. Just kept battling, kept coming back."
Juston Burris’ interception of Jared Goff, Cleveland’s second of the night, set up the Browns at their own 43-yard line with 2:46 to play. Faced with a third-and-15, Baker Mayfield fired a 27-yard pass to Jarvis Landry to get the Browns inside the 30. Two plays later, he found Damion Ratley at the 9 and got a few more yards thanks to a roughing the passer penalty.
Mayfield’s next three passes fell incomplete. His fourth-down throw was intercepted by John Johnson III.
"I think I am going to have recurring nightmares over the throw to Demetrius (Harris) up top. I think I will be able to look at the film and know I have Jarvis (Landry) underneath," Mayfield said, referencing his third-down throw near the goal line. "Just execute. I think that is what it comes down to. Execution down there. Doing your job. We need all 11 guys doing that, and it starts with me."
Mayfield finished 18-of-36 for 195 yards and a touchdown. Nick Chubb powered the Browns offense with 96 rushing yards and 35 through the air.
The Rams out-gained the Browns, 345-270, and weathered three turnovers that Cleveland was only able to turn into three points.
"It takes time to develop offensively," Kitchens said. "We kind of hit the ground running last year because we had been through eight games already so we know what we were doing. I would say, I got to do a better job during the course of the week, putting these guys in better situations and then on gameday.
The Rams were led by Kupp (11 catches, 102 yards) and Brandin Cooks (eight catches, 102 yards). Goff fed them regularly while compiling 269 yards and the two touchdown passes to Kupp.
The Rams took hold of the lead early in the fourth quarter on Kupp’s second touchdown of the half, a wide open catch that came on third-and-goal. The 6-yarder capped an eight-play, 72-yard drive, and put the Browns behind, 17-13.
The Rams trailed after the first half but grabbed the lead less than 5 minutes into the second when the Browns surrendered their first touchdown in six quarters. Los Angeles came out of the locker room intent to run, and that jump-started a 75-yard drive that was capped by Goff’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Kupp on third-and-goal.
Check out photos of the Browns in action against the Rams on Sunday Night Football
Cleveland responded on the following drive with a time-consuming march down the field that was sparked by Ratley’s circus catch on a critical third down. Mayfield’s 30-yard screen pass to Chubb on third-and-long kept the chains moving, and the Browns found the end zone on Mayfield’s 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Demetrius Harris.
In the days leading up to the game, Cleveland placed starting TE David Njoku (wrist) and LB Christian Kirksey (chest) on injured reserve. Additionally for Sunday, the Browns were without their entire starting secondary -- CB Denzel Ward (hamstring), CB Greedy Williams (hamstring), S Morgan Burnett (quadriceps) and S Damarious Randall (concussion) -- starting RT Chris Hubbard and WR Rashard Higgins.
Fifth-round rookie Mack Wilson was tasked with filling the massive shoes of Kirksey, a veteran leader and team captain. Cleveland had a batch of reliable veterans to fill most of the spots in the secondary but required a reinforcement in Burris, who spent training camp and the preseason with the team but was acquired via waivers Friday.
In the first half, you couldn’t tell a difference on defense, as the Browns bottled up the Rams’ high-powered attack to just a 53-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal.
"I thought the defense played incredible today," Kitchens said. "They kept battling. For what they did with that offense, they kept those guys under 100 yards rushing, that was our goal. Our goal is to get over 100 yards rushing, we did not quite get there, but we were close. Those guys did an incredible job. Burris did an incredible job, he picked one off and he has been here 24 hours."
The Browns matched that field goal early in the second quarter when Austin Seibert capped a 13-play, 70-yard drive with a short field goal. He added another from 35 yards at the end of the half following Cleveland’s biggest defensive play of the first 30 minutes, when Myles Garrett stripped Goff and Joe Schobert returned the loose ball to the Rams’ 17-yard line.
The Browns are back in action next Sunday when they travel to Baltimore.