After back-to-back wins against the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns were in the hunt for the second wild card spot in the AFC.
Baker Mayfield was looking- and is still looking- like the right choice as the first overall draft pick.
The game against the Falcons was Mayfield’s best of the season. That is until the game against the Bengals when he one-upped himself.
The Browns are close. Closer than many expected them to be at this point of the season. Four wins is a big improvement from the last two years.
But Sunday’s 29-13 loss against the Houston Texans showed that Cleveland is not quite there yet.
Mayfield threw three interceptions, all in the first half, and Antonio Callaway fumbled the ball on a 71-yard pass play that would have resulted in a touchdown.
In addition, Chubb only ran the ball nine times all game. That could have been because of how good the Texans pass defense is or because Cleveland needed to get points on the board and found themselves in a lot of passing situations.
This game was a good test and measuring stick game for the Browns, as Houston won eight straight games going into Sunday’s contest.
Cleveland wants to get where Houston is. A division lead late in the season with a high powered offense and a defense that ranks in the top-15 in both rushing and passing.
The Browns need a head coach for some offensive stability after firing Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley in the middle of the season. A coach that will be able to coach and call plays to Mayfield’s strengths, as well as the strengths of the weapons around Mayfield (like Duke Johnson, David Njoku, and Landry).
Cleveland is a young team, and a rather inexperienced one, too. Many of its starters and key players have only been in the league for a few years.
There is no Joe Thomas figure on this team anymore to mentor and help out younger players. Christian Kirksey has been in the league for five years and Jamie Collins has been in the league for six. Backup quarterback Drew Stanton has 12 years under his belt. But that is about it.
Kirksey is out for the rest of the season after being placed on IR with a hamstring injury.
The core of this team is learning on the fly and learning the hard way, week in and week out.
This will only make the Browns better and will get the younger players more acclimated to the NFL game for future seasons.
While the playoffs are more than likely out of the picture for 2018, that should not take away from the positives on the field.
Next season, the Browns can think bigger and better things.
But Cleveland is finally close.