Cleveland Browns conservative approach leads to heartbreaking loss

Dec 20, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns acting head coach Mike Priefer during the second half against the Las Vegas Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 20, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns acting head coach Mike Priefer during the second half against the Las Vegas Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cleveland Browns had the AFC North within reach, but being conservative now has the team in last place in the division.

Time and time again, the Cleveland Browns let their fans down. There are many instances in this season alone, a season in which there were high hopes. Those hopes are on life support with three games left to play.

Heading into Monday’s game, the Browns sat in third place in the AFC North. A win would have put them in first due to holding the tiebreaker over the division-leading Bengals, while a loss puts them in last in the division and 12th in the AFC.

There was a bevy of reasons that the end result on Monday night didn’t go Clevland’s way, but the biggest one, something that continues to haunt this team and coaching staff, is the conservativeness with the game on the line.

Kevin Stefanski missed the game due to being on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, as were most of his players, so special teams coach Mike Priefer assumed the role of head coach while offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt called the plays.

Many who have wanted Van Pelt to relieve Stefanski of playcalling duties got a glimpse of what that would look like, minus key offensive players, of course, most notably quarterback Baker Mayfield. The playcalling, especially to start the game, and then on the most crucial play of the season late in the fourth quarter was conservative.

Nick Mullens made his 17th career NFL start and first with the Browns, as Mayfield and Case Keenum are on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. He has been on the Browns practice squad, so he knew the offense. Instead of pushing the tempo after it was clear the Raiders were going to do everything they could to stop Nick Chubb, Van Pelt went conservative, which resulted in the Browns punting on their first three possessions.

Late in the first half, trailing 10-0, Mullens and the Browns were operating the two-minute drill and seemed to be picking up some momentum. This should have been the case from the get-go, but it was not. The end of that drive saw Chase McLaughlin nail a 47-yard field goal, but it didn’t count as Las Vegas called a timeout prior. Then naturally, McLaughlin missed the ensuing try.

Things were looking bleak for the Browns, yet they managed to fight through. A Nick Chubb touchdown run and a Mullens touchdown pass to tight end Harrison Bryant had the Browns up 14-13 with 3:45 left. 46 seconds later, Greedy Williams picked off Derek Carr. Las Vegas only had two timeouts and used them accordingly ahead of the two-minute warning to set up a crucial third down for the Browns.

Here is where conservatives reared its ugly head again. After two consecutive Chubb runs, for two and then five yards, Cleveland had a chance to ice the game and be in first place in the AFC North. Priefer and Van Pelt decided to bring the fullback in, signaling they were giving it to Chubb one final time to get the first down to essentially win the game. The Raiders knew this was coming, so why not run a play-action bootleg? It was set up perfectly by the Chubb runs, yet it was not called and Chubb was stopped short, forcing the Browns to punt.

Priefer, much like Stefanski continuously does, coached not to lose instead of to win the game. For a team that has gone for it on fourth down again, and again, and again, and again, despite minimal execution/success, this coaching staff sure knows how to be conservative.

It does not matter who was not playing, and yes the list was seemingly a mile long with how many players missed the game due to being on the Reserve/Covid-19 list, it just does not matter. The NFL does not care who is or isn’t playing and coaching. It does not matter how hard a team fights if the end result is a loss. There are no moral victories in the NFL, just wins and losses.

Next. Browns are in good position to make playoffs by winning division. dark

At the end of the day, the conservative nature of this coaching staff may have possibly cost this team a chance to go back to the playoffs for a second consecutive year. The season is far from over and the Browns need to do find ways to win three games and get some help, but now it is an uphill battle especially starting with Green Bay on Christmas Day.