Picking up the pieces of the Cleveland Browns’ calamitous season

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He was speaking on behalf of the Cleveland Browns organization as a whole, but his words have never been truer to longtime fans of the organization.

“The toughest part today, Browns general manager Andrew Berry said in his season-ending Zoom session with reporters on Tuesday, “is we’re not going to play meaningful football matches before nine months. That leaves a pretty sour taste in all of our mouths.

After an enticing 2020 season in which, under the leadership of NFL Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski, they hit a 12-5 record, reaching the playoffs for the first time in 18 years and winning a game. post-season for the first time in 24 years, the Browns laid one of the biggest eggs in franchise history in 2021.

Considered by many at the start of the season as a Super Bowl contender, the Browns instead hit an 8-9 record, missing the playoffs on the 18th.e times in the past 19 years.

Cleveland has only beaten one team with a winning record. That team was Cincinnati. The Browns have beaten the Bengals twice, but the second victory came in the final game of the regular season, in which the AFC North champion Bengals let several of their key players rest.

How dead were the 2021 Browns in the water? They played the last three months of the season without winning consecutive games.

Their offense was to be one of the league’s strongest, but instead the Browns were outscored by their opponents (371-349) for the 14e consecutive year, and the 26e times in the last 29 years, dating back to 1990 (they weren’t outperformed from 1996-98 because they didn’t have a team).

“A missed opportunity,” said Stefanski of his side’s failed 2021 season. “We weren’t consistent enough to win consistently.

If there’s a silver lining to the Browns’ puncture season, it’s that it gives them a boost to prepare for the 2022 season. The elephant in the room for these preparations is quarterback status. fullback Baker Mayfield, who has tried to play despite multiple injuries, and all that has given him has been a disastrous season. In 14 games, Mayfield was near the bottom of the league in most important quarterback stats, including touchdowns (17) and interceptions (13).

It came at a bad time for Mayfield, who is trying to prove to club officials that he is worth a big contract extension. He’ll make $ 18.9 million in 2022, but the question is, from whom?

For now, Berry has no choice but to say what he said on Tuesday, when asked about Mayfield’s future in Cleveland.

“We expect Baker to be our starter (next season) and rebound,” Berry said. “It’s easy to forget that Baker had his most productive year under Kevin in this attack (in 2020). We know Baker’s work ethic; we know his conduct. We saw him as a talented passer in this league.

On January 19, Mayfield will undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. How much of Mayfield’s dismal 2021 season was due to his shoulder injury and numerous other bumps and bruises – in just 14 games, he was sacked 43 times, fourth in the league – is open to discussion.

What’s not in dispute is that this Browns team is built to win now. Can a healthy Mayfield provide the quarterback play a potential Super Bowl contender needs? Can the Browns afford to spend another year waiting to find the answer to this question?

Some believe Stefanski’s call-to-play has made Mayfield, and the team’s offense in general, no favor in 2021. During his first year as coach Stefanski drew praise for his call-to-play. game. This isn’t the case in his sophomore year, to the point where some wonder if being the head coach while calling the pieces maybe isn’t too hard to put on the plate. an inexperienced head coach.

Berry is not one of those wonders.

“We feel good with Kevin as a play caller,” Berry said. “It’s one of his strengths.

Mayfield’s bad season, Stefanski’s questionable play call, a wave of injuries and positive COVID tests that impacted several key players, poor team chemistry, the distraction of Odell Beckham’s messy start Jr.’s team mid-season and the seeds of dissent he may or may not have sewn into the locker room.

There is no shortage of theories as to why this Cleveland Browns team started the 2021 season with very high expectations, but ended it with endless speculation about how and why it all turned out so quickly, so quickly – and on how best to fix it.

“We were too inconsistent in all phases. We’ll look at everything on the list, ”Berry said.

“Every time you fail, you guess everything,” Stefanski said. “There is a ton of things to watch and learn. “

And, sadly now, for the Browns too early in the season, plenty of time to do just that.

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