CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns and their fans hadn’t felt heartbreak in years.
This time the pain wasn’t nearly as bad.
Cleveland couldn’t stop Lamar Jackson from running around in the first half or on a fourth-down play in the final two minutes after he returned from cramps, and the Browns were beaten 47-42 on Monday night by the Baltimore Ravens in a wild game with twists galore.
But in prime time, on a national stage, the Browns showed they’re not the same old Browns.
“The message in the locker room after the game was, win as a team, lose as a team,” said quarterback Baker Mayfield, who shook off his first interception in six games and rallied the Browns from a 14-point deficit in the second half. “There can either be good or bad to come from this.
“You can start pointing fingers, but that’s not this team. We know that we need to fight and make the plays to win when we need to.”
The Browns (9-4) were moments away from moving closer to their first playoff appearance since 2002 when Jackson showed why he’s the reigning NFL MVP, throwing a touchdown pass and then moving the Ravens into range for Justin Tucker to kick a 55-yard field goal with two seconds left.
After getting clobbered 38-6 by the Ravens in Week 1, the Browns showed they’re a legitimate contender — but that didn’t soften the blow for coach Kevin Stefanski.
“Obviously, very disappointing,” he said. “We did not do enough to get a win. We made mistakes. We weren’t clean enough to beat a good team. We’ve got to find a way to be better in a bunch of those situations.”
Jackson was in the locker room for a long stretch of the second half before emerging with two minutes left after backup Trace McSorley injured his knee. The Browns had just capped a 14-point rally with Mayfield scoring on a 5-yard run to go up 35-34 when Jackson came back.
On fourth-and-5, Jackson rolled right and found receiver Marquise Brown open over the middle for a 44-yard touchdown. The Ravens got the 2-point conversion to go up 42-35.
When the Browns needed a stop, they didn’t get it and Jackson made them pay.
“We blitzed. He made a play,” Stefanski said. “Not exactly sure what happened on that play. We will look at it and get to the bottom of it, but he should not be able to escape the pocket like that. Disappointing. Those are the mistakes that we have to clean up.”
After Jackson’s TD pass, Mayfield drove the Browns 75 yards in 47 seconds, connecting with Kareem Hunt for a 22-yard TD with 1:04 left.
It appeared a game featuring a record-tying nine rushing touchdowns was headed to overtime, but Jackson had other plans. He made two nice throws to tight end Mark Andrews and then Tucker, who last week missed his first field goal inside 40 yards after 70 straight makes, drilled the game-winner.
But while the loss stung, there was plenty for the Browns to feel good about in arguably their biggest game in more than a decade.
Mayfield showed mental toughness in moving past his first interception after throwing 187 consecutive passes without one. He finished with 343 yards through the air. Nick Chubb had two rushing TDs, and Hunt, who pours everything he has into every carry, ran for a score and caught a TD pass.
The problem was Cleveland’s inability to corral Jackson, who ran for 124 yards and was only slowed by cramps — not anything the Browns did.
Still, the game didn’t appear too big for the Browns, who are eyeing bigger ones in the weeks ahead.
This was a lesson learned.
“We know that we can fight,” Mayfield said. “We are going to use it in a positive way. I know this team. I know the guys in this locker room. I know the staff. We are going to handle it correctly. I am confident in this team, the guys around me and what we are doing.”
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