HOUSTON -- Another year, another season ending after 16 games.
Barring a miracle that might include the parting of the seas and the rewriting of the Magna Carta, the Cleveland Browns will make it 16 seasons in a row without reaching the NFL playoffs.
Sunday’s 29-13 loss to the Texans doesn’t officially eliminate the Browns, but it makes it almost impossible. The Browns are 4-7-1 and in last place in the AFC North. Thirteen AFC teams have better records; six make the playoffs.
The significance of the moment: For the week leading up to the game at Houston, the Browns did not hide from the fact they were still alive. Buoyed by a two-game winning streak, the Browns said their goals were still there despite the 4-6-1 record.
After Sunday's loss, however, quarterback Baker Mayfield put things into perspective with a well-intended statement that went awry, much like his three first-half passes that were intercepted.
“Anything can happen,” Mayfield said. “We have to take care of our business and put us in good position to be there in the end. All we can take care of is what we’re doing and let the rest fall into pieces.”
Obviously, Mayfield meant let the pieces fall where they may, and just as obviously, he got his words mixed up. It happens. Just like interceptions.
But the Browns recognize where they are with four games left -- that the best record they can achieve would put them over .500 at 8-7-1, but likely out of playoff reach.
“We have four games left,” receiver Jarvis Landry said. “Now it’s time to make the push for those last four and let the cards fall where they may.”
It does not make this a lost season for the Browns. Not by any definition.
They found their quarterback in Mayfield and a running back in Nick Chubb. They have defensive talent in Myles Garrett (who registered a sack-and-a-half on Sunday to give him 11.5 in 11 games) and Denzel Ward. They will have a vital coach hire as soon the season ends, and they have a ton of salary cap room for general manager John Dorsey to add more pieces.
Those are all positives, the most positive being the firm belief gained in Mayfield as the season has progressed. His three-interception first half in Houston is something he would like to have back, but it doesn’t change his big-picture trajectory.
Make no mistake, though, the loss to the Texans was humbling. Why it was humbling depends on the prism from which it’s viewed.
The on-field assessment would be that veteran defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel adjusted to what Mayfield likes, which led to two of his three interceptions.
The off-field analysis is that the attention paid to former Browns head coach Hue Jackson last week distracted from the focus on the gridiron. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt even made a quip about Mayfield’s “feeling dangerous” remark during and after Cleveland's win over the Atlanta Falcons, proving that opposing teams watch NFL Films programming and see what players are saying.
Browns interim coach Gregg William shrugged off the off-field influence, saying the Texans deserved the credit for winning their ninth in a row.
Mayfield did, as well.
“Absolutely not,” Mayfield said of a possible distraction. “That’s the one thing that everybody in that locker room knew. What happened last week, we put behind us, and we came in with a great game plan. Like I said, it was a matter of me taking care of the ball and execution.”
He did not, though, disagree with the assessment that the loss was humbling, saying the team could learn from it, “If you use it the right way.”
“Obviously this late in the season, no, we don’t want it,” Mayfield said. “We would have liked to have learned it earlier in the year. Which I think we have. Like I said, it’s about execution.”
Williams channeled his inner Herm Edwards by saying the rest of the season is about “competing every day.”
“And that’s what a pro does -- do your job, compete every day, don’t ever back down, don’t ever flinch,” Williams said. “And that’s exactly how we’ll always be.”