I don’t think there is an award for this, but until two minutes remained in the excruciating loss by the Cleveland Browns to the lowly New York Jets, 23-16, on Dec. 27, coach Kevin Stefanski may have called the greatest game-day game in team history.
Trailing throughout most of the game – just about 20 hours after he found out he wouldn’t have his top four receivers who were sidelined by COVID-19 contact tracing – Stefanski had to change his game plan, using practice squad players and others who had never caught a pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield.
With the Browns driving for a potential tying score late in the game, Stefanski’s mistake was having Mayfield attempt a sneak not long after the quarterback gave up another fumble to the Jets, who improved to 2-13. Mayfield’s third fumble of the game came after he was stopped on fourth-and-one at the Jet’s 16-yard line with 1:25 remaining.
The only way the coach doesn’t take the blame for that bad play call is if Mayfield called an audible for himself. If that is the case, both sides should take the blame, although I don’t think either one will publicly admit who was responsible for that play.
Other than the final minute, Stefanski could hardly be blamed for anything that went wrong on offense or defense, although Jets quarterback Sam Darnold didn’t give the Browns much to worry about. There can’t be anyone who thinks the Browns should have taken Darnold ahead of Mayfield in the 2018 NFL Draft, is there?
After the game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Stefanski was asked if he changed the game plan to accommodate the personnel changes, which included the absence of numerous linebackers and lineman due to COVID-19 or injury. He said he didn’t, but you don’t believe that, do you? Certainly, most coaches subscribe to the next man up theory, but that’s kind of difficult when you don’t know who the next man up will be.
I haven’t even mentioned the horrible place kicking by Cody Parkey over the past few weeks. He missed another extra point and I assume he would have missed a field goal if given the chance.
Former Cleveland sports talker Kenny Roda, long ago labeled events in Cleveland sports as part of “Only in Cleveland.” OIC can be used in place of “The Drive,” “The Fumble” and “The Shot.” Here is the difference between the loss to the Jets and others that sting. The others did not allow the players to redeem themselves.
The Browns fell to 10-5 and have a chance to redeem themselves next week when the Pittsburgh Steelers comes to FirstEnergy Stadium to complete the regular season. A win by the Browns will send them in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The Steelers, who probably won’t use starters for the entire game, have already clinched a playoff spot. Despite everything that has gone against the Browns recently, they still need a win, which is really the way you want it.
I am not ready for this Browns season to end next week because Mayfield and Stefanski deserve another shot.
Defeating Pittsburgh at home is quite doable. Anything after that would mean the Browns are playing with “house money.”