The Browns lost, 47-42, despite the best intentions and effort from quarterback Baker Mayfield and his offense. It was entertaining to watch, and the game highlighted why many feel the Browns are a Super Bowl contender this season. The Chargers, led by Justin Herbert, are in the same boat. The fact that Cleveland was able to go head-to-head with the Chargers on the road in Los Angeles is a testament to how good the Browns are and can be.
Moral victories are hollow in the NFL, though. They’re even worse when the loss ends up making NFL history.
A masterpiece from Baker Mayfield and the Browns was wasted in a heartbreaking loss
Cleveland’s offense was effective in every single way against the Chargers. Its only flaw, as pointed out in the standings, was not scoring enough to keep up with Herbert and company.
The Browns put up a whopping 531 total yards of offense, led by running back Nick Chubb’s 161 yards on the ground. Chubb was a superstar for Cleveland, rushing for 7.7 yards per carry and a touchdown, but the offense as a whole put up the kind of numbers that make fantasy football managers weak in the knees.
Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, completed 23 of 32 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns. He had a quarterback rating of 122.5 and averaged 9.5 yards per completion.
Those are the types of numbers that normally lead to a win, especially if you can put them up on the road. The Browns were so good offensively that in their brilliance, they set an NFL record. Sadly, according to ESPN Stats & Info, it wasn’t the kind likely to end up in Cleveland’s trophy case.
For the first time in NFL history, and that includes the playoffs, a team lost while putting up over 40 points and 500 yards of offense with no turnovers.
That team was the Browns in Week 5.
Even in a loss, the brilliance of Kevin Stefanski was highlighted
The fact that a game featuring the Browns could even be considered a masterpiece says a lot about just how much head coach Kevin Stefanski means to the organization.
Remember, the Browns are only a few seasons away from going 0-16 under Hue Jackson during the 2017 season. Only two NFL organizations have ever gone winless during a 16-plus-game season, the other being the Detroit Lions.
That’s bad company if you’re a Browns fan.
Stefanski, on the other hand, is the definition of good company. Since taking over for the hapless Freddie Kitchens after a 6-10 season in 2019, the 39-year-old head coach has rejuvenated the Browns and potentially even turned them into an offensive juggernaut.
He was the first head coach since Romeo Crennell in 2007 to lead the Browns to a winning season. The 2020 season was a landmark campaign for Cleveland, as it saw the Browns go 11-5 with the No. 14 offense in football. They made the playoffs and even won a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though they did eventually fall to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round, Stefanski and his team proved they could hang with the “big boys” in the conference.
Fresh off a Coach of the Year award for his efforts in 2020, Stefanski has Cleveland’s offense humming once again. The Browns currently have the seventh-best offense in football, putting up 28.4 points and 435.6 yards per game.
Cleveland’s offense should continue humming
If there is any solace for the Browns in a loss, it’s that their offense looks to have all the pieces in place to continue scoring at an impressive clip.
Chubb got a majority of Cleveland’s rush yards against the Chargers, but the beauty of Stefanski’s offense is that he has a legitimate two-headed monster in Chubb and backfield mate Kareem Hunt. Impressive in his own right, Hunt rattled off 5.1 yards per carry against Los Angeles and found the end zone twice.
The two backs have 818 yards of rushing offense between them through five games, and that only serves to make Mayfield’s life easier through the air. Cleveland has a deadly play-action game, and tight end David Njoku is one of its main features. Njoku snagged seven receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers, and he’ll continue to be a major threat as long as defenses have to key on the backfield.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to Mayfield, though, and he’s proved he can show up in big games. He went throw for throw with Herbert while completing 71.9% of his passes.
Stefanski doesn’t need him to be a superstar like he once was at Oklahoma, and that’s the beauty of it. Cleveland’s offense is explosive enough as it is. The Browns just need Baker to keep the train on the track.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference