Browns takeaways: First to worst feeling crushes locker room: 'The most I've seen it in that kind of pain'
CLEVELAND — Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett jumped as high as he could with a fresh groin injury while he tried to block Las Vegas Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson's 48-yard game-winning field goal Monday night.
An Associated Press photograph shows that Garrett correctly predicted the path of the kick, and it looks as if he came close to getting a finger on the ball as time expired.
But a replay of NFL Network's telecast shows the ball was way too high for Garrett to reach when it sailed over him and ultimately through the uprights on the Dawg Pound end of FirstEnergy Stadium.
The point is Garrett and the COVID-19-ravaged Browns (7-7) showed until the end how badly they wanted to defeat the Raiders (7-7). And they nearly pulled it off, only to come up short in heartbreaking fashion.
Although the Browns' 16-14 loss doesn't eliminate them from the playoff hunt, it means winning out with three regular-season games left will likely wind up being necessary for a postseason berth.
“It was tough [to jump at the end of the game],” Garrett said. “It hurt, but everybody’s hurting. I don’t want to say I’m special. Everybody’s fighting through something.
“You’re going to have to kill me to take me off that field or you’re going to have to break my leg. You’re going to have to take me completely out because I’m going to go out there until I can't.”
Garrett suffered a groin injury with 14:51 left in the fourth quarter and made a trip into the medical tent on the sideline. He finished the game, logging 60 of the defense's 69 snaps (87%), and the Browns felt a different kind of agony afterward.
“That locker room right now is hurting. That's the most I've seen it in that kind of pain,” Browns acting head coach and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “You're upset when you lose.
“When you lose that type of game, that one is tough. They're pretty down right now. We'll have our job cut out for us this week in terms of coaches getting them back up again and getting their spirits back up.”
If Carlson had missed his clutch field goal, the Browns would have prevailed and moved into first place in the AFC North and fourth in the AFC playoff standings, with the top seven teams qualifying for the postseason.
Instead, Carlson nailed the kick, and the Browns fell to last place in the AFC North and 12th in the AFC playoff standings.
One play decided the outcome of the game and resulted in a wild swing in the playoff picture.
“That one sucks,” Browns offensive lineman Joel Bitonio said. “You wish it wouldn’t be like that, but it just means that it’s close enough. Obviously, I don't think we control our own destiny. But if we handle our business down the stretch, I think good things can still happen for this team. But that’s how tight the division is.”
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Even though Cleveland had 22 players on the COVID-19 list and three coaches out with the virus, including head coach Kevin Stefanski, Priefer said the Browns “felt like we should've won there at the end against a good football team.”
“What we had to go through during the week and the guys who stepped up and put it all on the line, we were a play away. It did hurt,” Bitonio said. “I've been a part of a few losses that have hurt, but that's definitely up there.”
Running back Nick Chubb said the Browns' locker room was quiet afterward.
“Games like that, you would rather lose by 40 than to lose by one,” he said.
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The Browns trail the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6), Baltimore Ravens (8-6) and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1) in the AFC North. If they had triumphed over the Raiders, the Browns would have led the division by virtue of a three-team tiebreaker against the Bengals and Ravens.
“It’s completely up for grabs still,” Garrett said of the division title. “We’ve just got to keep on working, keep on winning. The goal is still to win out, and our destiny is still in our favor if we continue to do the things we need to.”
The Browns will need a Christmas miracle when they visit the Green Bay Packers (11-3) on Saturday. Then they'll end the season with back-to-back divisional games at the Steelers and at home against the Bengals. The Browns lost 15-10 to the Steelers on Oct. 31 in Cleveland and routed the Bengals 41-16 on Nov. 7 in Cincinnati.
This week, Garrett plans to fight through his most recent injury at Lambeau Field.
“I've got to get right, get ready for Christmas Day,” he said. “We've got another game.”
How do the Cleveland Browns bounce back from a devastating defeat?
The Packers have the best record in the NFL, and the Browns still have at least nine starters on the COVID-19 list. Even if the Browns get many of their key players back this week, the Packers will be a huge favorite at home.
To Priefer's point, Browns players and coaches will need to pick each other up this week. Losing the way they did after the week they endured must be emotionally draining.
"Go back to our core, our center," Garrett said. "Go back to what makes us great. It’s preparation. It’s mentality. It’s attitude. Look inside. Look in the mirror. Everybody’s telling everybody to do something, and we’re no different. We’re going to be able to attack it and bounce back from this."
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If going 3-0 down the final stretch of the regular season is required, Chubb wouldn't count the Browns out.
"We have a lot of guys who are going to fight to the end, and we're not going to give up for anything," he said. "We know what's ahead of us, and we've got to keep going."
The belief the Browns have stems from how they responded to their COVID-19 crisis, albeit in a loss.
"Some teams might have just folded and said, ‘Nah, we’ll wait until next week when we get our guys back,’ but the guys fought and I appreciate that," Bitonio said. "I know the coaches appreciate that, and obviously it wasn’t enough, but we’re going to be refocused and hopefully get a few more guys back this week. And we’ll be ready to play on Christmas. It’s the end of the year. Everybody’s a little beat up. We’ll be ready to go.”
Chubb admitted the buildup to Monday's game was "crazy" because of the team's COVID-19 outbreak.
"It wasn't enough in the end, but our guys, I think we did fight our ass off," Chubb said. "It was tough coming into the situation that we were in. But it is what it is. I think a lot of guys stepped up that needed to step up. At the end of the day, we've got to finish, and we weren't able to."
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb wasn't able to ice the game
Chubb has closed many games for the Browns, but he couldn't do it against the Raiders.
After the Browns went ahead 14-13 when third-string quarterback Nick Mullens threw a clutch 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Harrison Bryant on fourth-and-5 with 3:45 left in the fourth quarter, cornerback Greedy Williams intercepted a pass from Raiders quarterback Derek Carr with 2:47 remaining.
The Browns needed to chew up clock to seal a victory, but instead they went three-and-out with the ball in the hands of the offense's best player.
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Calling the plays in place of Stefanski, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt turned to Chubb on first-and-10 from the Cleveland 23, second-and-8 from the 25 and third-and-3 from the 30. Chubb rushed for 2 yards, 5 yards and no gain on those crucial downs.
The Browns punted at the two-minute warning, and Carr led an eight-play, 41-yard drive on which he completed a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Zay Jones and then spiked the ball with three seconds left to set up Carlson's game-winning field goal from the Cleveland 30.
“It's very frustrating," Chubb said. "In the NFL, you have to finish teams like that. The ball was in my hands, but it wasn't enough. That's something that we can't do anything about it now, but in the future, I have to make a play, we have to make a play or something.”
In fairness to Chubb, he was running behind a makeshift offensive line. With left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. and right tackle James Hudson sidelined due to COVID-19, Bitonio moved from left guard to make his first NFL start at left tackle, Michael Dunn started at left guard and Blake Hance started at right guard. The only two offensive linemen in their usual roles were center JC Tretter and right guard Wyatt Teller.
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Then there's the notion Van Pelt became too predictable on the final possession. Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby said the defense expected the Browns to run the ball on third-and-3. The Raiders were right and stuffed Chubb.
“It was a tough way to go down," Bitonio said. "We needed a first down and then we needed a stop, and we didn’t get either of them."
Chubb rushed 23 times for 91 yards (4 average) and a touchdown. The Browns ran just one other time — No. 3 running back D'Ernest Johnson had one carry for a 2-yard loss. Running back Kareem Hunt was out with an ankle injury, and he's on the COVID-19 list.
Chubb became the first Browns player to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in three consecutive seasons since Mike Pruitt (1979-81). Chubb has 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns on 190 carries (5.4 average) this season.
Chubb received his third consecutive Pro Bowl nod Monday, but he is not the type to celebrate anything after rushing for no gain when victory was in reach.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Browns at Packers
Time: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
TV: FOX/NFL Network