'We were in control there': Browns coach Kevin Stefanski second-guesses failure on final series at Green Bay
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and his staff went through the same angst that fans felt over their final possession in Saturday’s 24-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
“Ultimately when you don’t come through, you second-guess everything. You second-guess the first play of the game, the second play of the game, whenever it is. When it doesn’t work, we’re definitely second-guessing ourselves,” Stefanski said Monday.
Trailing by two, the Browns took over at their own 25 with 2:05 to go. Stefanski said the goal was to score a touchdown or kick a short field goal.
Kicker Chase McLaughlin tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday and rookie Chris Naggar, who had never appeared in an NFL game, was called up from the practice squad as a COVID replacement. Naggar pushed his first kick, an extra point, wide right with 12:21 remaining in the first quarter.
But the final drive ended with quarterback Baker Mayfield's fourth interception with 43 seconds remaining. Mayfield’s pass was intercepted by cornerback Rasul Douglas, who appeared to commit defensive holding or pass interference against receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, but no flag was thrown.
The loss means the Browns (7-8) need help to reach the playoffs, even if they win their final two games against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 3 and the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 9.
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Most scrutinized were the three pass plays Stefanski called as the Browns faced first down from the 50 with the ball spotted with 61 seconds to go and all three timeouts remaining. Nick Chubb had rushed for 126 yards (7.4 per carry) and one touchdown and D’Ernest Johnson (four carries, 58 yards) came through with a 30-yard run on the previous possession, an eight-play, 76-yard touchdown drive.
On first down, snapped at 59 seconds, Mayfield’s short pass to open tight end David Njoku on the right side was wide. Mayfield’s second-down throw to Johnson was batted down by linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. Then came Mayfield’s final interception.
Asked if he had any regrets about those three plays, Stefanski said, “We felt pretty good about the calls. We had a potential for an explosive [play] on first down. Had a screen on second down and the screen game had been good to us. Then third down obviously we turned the ball over. We’re always considering many different ways to go there.
“We had those three timeouts; we were in control there.”
Asked about his intended use of timeouts, Stefanski said that had been discussed prior to the possession.
“Felt confident that we could run our core stuff, then ultimately we were trying to go score a touchdown and/or kick a short field goal and we just didn’t come through,” Stefanski said.
“We were anticipating getting a new set of downs there and then certainly you’d be ready to stop the clock in that situation. Unfortunate how it turned out and we’ve got to look at everything.”
Stefanski was mindful of not leaving any time on the clock for Packers' future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers, which seemingly would have pointed to at least one Chubb run from the 50.
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“Certainly a great quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, we don’t want to give him any time. We felt like we were in control of the clock with our timeouts,” Stefanski said.
The final three pass attempts gave the appearance that the coaching staff did not have confidence in Naggar, a Southern Methodist University product signed to the practice squad on Sept. 2.
“I wouldn’t characterize it as lack of confidence,” Stefanski said. “I think to be fair to Chris in that type of game, didn’t want to attempt a long field goal with the game in the balance. We wanted to go score a touchdown, something we had done throughout that game moving the ball.
“Certainly if it came down to a field goal he’s our kicker, we have confidence in him. Our mentality wasn’t to just get the ball to the 35 or 40 and attempt a long field goal.”
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Peoples-Jones has been the Browns’ primary downfield threat of late. But he caught just one pass for 5 yards on six targets against the Packers, and was also the intended receiver on Mayfield’s first interception with 8:37 left in the first quarter.
Stefanski said rookie speedster Anthony Schwartz, who suffered a concussion on Nov. 14 at New England and spent the next three games in concussion protocol, should get more time in the final two games. Schwartz caught a 5-yard touchdown pass on his only target against the Packers. He played but was not targeted in the Browns’ 16-14 home loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Dec. 20.
“I think for sure with Anthony coming off the concussion protocol and getting into these games, getting him some touches, I think his role will grow,” Stefanski said.
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach leaves for University of Oregon
The Steelers gave offensive line coach Adrian Klemm permission to leave the team and accept a similar position with the University of Oregon. Assistant offensive line coach Chris Morgan will assume Klemm’s role for the rest of the season.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.