I spent much of Monday reviewing the official game book from the Browns-Chiefs game, thinking carefully about the best way to critique the manner in which the Browns handled the game after Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes exited with a concussion.
Browns safety Karl Joseph caught a can of corn from Chiefs backup quarterback Chad Henne in the Cleveland end zone with exactly eight minutes to play. Down 19-10 when Patrick Mahomes left and 22-10 at the conclusion of the drive finished by Henne, the Browns had scored a touchdown and had cut the margin to five points, 22-17. The Joseph interception shoved the pendulum of momentum squarely in the Browns’ favor.
That’s when things when sideways for Cleveland. Through seven plays (and despite wasting a timeout along the way), the Browns moved 12 yards, from their own 20 to their own 32, burning three minutes and forty-one seconds of clock time. Facing fourth and nine, the Browns punted to Kansas City instead of choosing to go for it.
The reasoning makes sense. If Mahomes had still been playing, the Browns definitely should have taken their chances on fourth and nine. With Henne, why not punt and then play defense?
One reason not to punt, of course, came from the fact that the Browns had only one timeout remaining, due to an ill-advised replay challenge and the timeout that had to be used to avoid a delay-of-game foul during what would be Cleveland’s final drive. It was Cleveland’s final drive because the Chiefs successfully milked the remaining 4:19 to seal victory.
Thus, the fair criticism of the Browns comes from the failure to move more quickly after Mahomes went to the locker room. Before Mahomes was injured, it made sense to minimize possessions and shorten the game. Post-Mahomes, the total talent gap narrowed if not disappeared. At that point, the Browns should have done everything more quickly, in order to increase the number of times both teams had the ball — because in a battle of Baker Mayfield vs. Chad Henne, the Browns are more likely to score more points than the Chiefs.
Consider the first drive after Mahomes left. The Browns used eighteen plays, consuming eight minutes and seventeen seconds of clock time.
Down 12 at the time that drive began, why not force the issue? Move faster. Run more plays. Get the ball back to the Chiefs, and hope for a mistake that could lead to an opening to win the game.
If the Browns had simply displayed a greater sense of urgency during their final two drives, the Browns could have been going to Buffalo this weekend.