Browns can't connect on key plays, persevere through gusty weather conditions in loss to Raiders
The Browns did their best to capitalize on what they could control Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Cleveland had plenty of uncontrollable factors to deal with against the Las Vegas Raiders. Difficult catches — and whether or not they stood as catches after official reviews — made a big difference in the success from each offense. So were the gusty weather conditions, which led to uneven passes and missed field goals from both sides.
The Browns, however, will focus on what went wrong in areas that were controllable in their 16-6 loss. Dropped passes, third-down conversions and overall inconsistency on both sides of the ball limited how much damage the Browns could do against the Raiders. That'll be at the heart of the Browns' focus as they head into the bye week and move on from their Week 8 loss.
"We got beat," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "We didn't do enough things in those conditions to go win. I don't think anyone can use that as an excuse."
The Browns failed to find the same big plays they used in their five previous wins that helped them build an early head start in the playoff race. Quarterback Baker Mayfield needed to be even more precise on throws that swirled around the quick winds, while receivers needed to ensure both hands were firmly in position to catch the ball.
Neither of those variables played in Cleveland's favor Sunday. Drops were made among nearly all targeted receivers Sunday, and even plays that displayed maximum efforts didn't end in the Browns' favor.
Perhaps no plays became more costly than Mayfield's two touchdown attempts to wide receiver Jarvis Landry. The first came on a perfect 20-yard lob to Landry in the end zone that would've given the Browns a lead and stood as the first touchdown from either side in the game.
Landry seemed to make an incredible overhead catch to secure the football, but replay ruled the ground aided him in securing the catch. The call was reversed, and the Browns had to settle for a field goal. Landry did all he could to squeeze the ball into his chest and make the difficult catch, but the play just wasn't made.
Later in the fourth quarter, Mayfield went to Landry again for a difficult leaping catch on a tricky 19-yard pass. Landry originally appeared to catch the ball between a pair of Raiders defenders, but a jolting hit to the back from safety Lamarcus Joyner sprung the ball loose.
"He'll always tell you that every ball thrown his way should be a catch," Stefanski said. "That's just what he'll tell you. I have high expectations for Jarvis. He has tremendous ball skills. I think he'll make those plays, and I haven't lost faith whatsoever in him."
The opposite of fortunes happened for Cleveland in the fourth quarter, when the Raiders' Hunter Renfroe caught a bullet from quarterback Derek Carr at the goal line on third down. The ball appeared to slightly move, though, when Renfroe hit the ground, too.
No team had yet to score a touchdown at that point, either, so everyone held their breaths when the referees huddled for another replay review.
But the catch was upheld, meaning there wasn't enough video evidence to overturn the call. Las Vegas was given a touchdown.
Those three plays were arguably the biggest game-changers for Cleveland, although the Browns committed other mistakes that ultimately led to their defeat. The defense failed to record any turnovers, which have carried the Browns to success in all of their previous wins, and allowed the Raiders to go 8-for-14 on third down and 2-for-2 on fourth down. The Browns offense, meanwhile, went 3-for-10 on third down.
Stefanski pointed to one particular statistic that summarized the difficult afternoon — the Browns only possessed the ball for 22 minutes, while the Raiders had possession for 37 minutes. He wanted to emphasize how the offense couldn't sustain long drives, while the defense struggled to find ways to take the Raiders offense off the field.
"Time of possession is a great team stat," he said. "Offensively, you have to possess it by sustaining drives and making first downs on third down and just find ways to get first downs. Obviously, we didn't do that on offense. Defensively, I don't know the exact numbers, but they were just much better than us on third downs and sustained drives."
Cleveland was met with more bad news following the game, too. Defensive end Myles Garrett suffered a knee injury in the second half and will undergo an MRI on Monday morning. His presence was missed late in the game, as well as that from receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who's reliable set of hands could've been useful in the tough conditions Sunday.
But the Browns focused on what they could control. That approach has helped them find several ways to win in previous weeks, but they didn't find a formula Sunday.
They didn't blame the wind, the close calls or injuries — they blamed themselves.
"(The Raiders) found a way to put 16 points up on the board," Stefanski said. "We did not."