Injury-riddled Browns get steamrolled by undefeated Cardinals

Injured Browns running back Kareem Hunt is escorted off the field, adding to the growing list of key players sidelined due to injury.

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Injured Browns running back Kareem Hunt is escorted off the field, adding to the growing list of key players sidelined due to injury.

Gaurav Hardikar, Staff Writer

On Sunday Oct. 17, the Cleveland Browns continued to face one of the league’s hardest schedules head on. After losing a nail-biting 47-42 shootout on the road to the electric Los Angeles Chargers, the Browns returned home to face the Arizona Cardinals, the last undefeated team in the NFL. Over 67,000 fans were in attendance at FirstEnergy Stadium to watch one the most anticipated games of the season, as Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield welcomed his old college backup, Cardinals quarterback and early MVP candidate Kyler Murray. Both University of Oklahoma alumni were Heisman Trophy winners in college, first overall picks in the NFL draft and are now faces of two of the most talented teams at the professional level.

Despite the home-field advantage, the Browns were severely limited due to several key injuries. Nick Chubb, the bruiser of the best running back duo in the league, was held out of the game due to a calf injury. His shifty counterpart, Kareem Hunt, was available to play but unfortunately left the game late with the same injury; he will now miss at least 3 games. These two injuries are especially devastating for the run-heavy Browns and, to make matters worse, Mayfield played with a fully torn left labrum. Further hindering the Browns’ passing game were injuries to the star wide receivers: Jarvis Landry continued to miss action with knee trouble while Odell Beckham Jr. hurt his shoulder during the game. On top of both phases of the offense being decimated, star defensive end Myles Garrett played through a knee and ankle injury.

However, Cleveland did have an edge in the head coaching matchup with reigning Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski at the helm. Cardinals Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the game and was unable to participate, handing off the play-calling responsibilities to assistant wide receivers coach Spencer Whipple in the interim. Unfortunately, Arizona’s blazing talent and playmaking ability proved to be too much for the injury-riddled Browns to overcome.

The Browns got the ball first but immediately punted, going 3-and-out after an illegal formation penalty took away a 17-yard pass to tight end Austin Hooper and pushed the offense back into a difficult third down situation. Arizona got to work right away, as running back Chase Edmonds broke off for a 40-yard run. A few plays after recovering his own fumble, Murray connected with wide receiver Christian Kirk on a 21-yard touchdown pass. Kirk picked up 15 yards on a reception earlier in the drive as well, impressively converting on 3rd and 7.

Down 7-0, Mayfield led the charge and fought to overcome several penalties committed by his teammates. After finding Beckham for 25 yards and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones for 20 yards, Mayfield made way into the Cardinals’ red zone. Unfortunately, the offense started to crumble and Mayfield took a disastrous 9-yard sack on a 4th down conversion attempt. The Cardinals punished Cleveland for this turnover, as Murray hit star wideout DeAndre Hopkins with a 13-yard touchdown pass. All in all, the Browns beat themselves on this drive, committing 43 yards worth of penalties on the 78-yard Arizona drive.

The Browns’ woes continued, as Mayfield was strip sacked by linebacker Markus Golden two plays into their next possession. Defensive end Michael Dogbe recovered the ball for Arizona, quickly placing the Cardinals within striking distance. Fortunately, the Browns defense was able to hold it together, forcing two incomplete throws and a loss of 5 rushing yards out of Murray.

After holding the explosive offense to a field goal, the Browns got the ball back, but their attempts at climbing out of their 17-point hole only made matters worse. Mayfield was picked off on a deep ball by Cardinals cornerback Robert Alford, resulting in a 51-yard Arizona field goal. This was especially disappointing because Cleveland’s defence had come alive to hold their opponents to only 5 yards across their previous two drives.

Now facing a 20-0 deficit, the Browns finally started to show signs of life on offense as Mayfield threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Peoples-Jones on a drive that was largely helped by a catch by Beckham and a run by Hunt, each for 17 yards.

As the game neared the half, the Browns continued to protect the endzone despite allowing a 33-yard completion to Hopkins. Unfortunately, the Cardinals’ subsequent drive tacked on another 3 points after kicker Matt Prater nailed his third field goal of the day. Mayfield and Peoples-Jones wasted no time retaliating and immediately connected on a 57-yard Hail Mary throw for a touchdown as time expired, sending FirstEnergy Stadium into a frenzy.

Hope was renewed as the Browns came out of the locker room trailing only by 9 and forcing a 3-and-out punt out of the Cardinals’ opening drive of the second half. Cleveland and Arizona both came up empty with the second and third 3-and-outs of the half, respectively, killing any momentum either team had going into the third quarter. On the Browns’ next possession, disaster struck again, as Mayfield suffered his second strip sack of the day, this time falling victim to future Hall of Fame defensive end J.J. Watt. Mayfield went to the sidelines looking injured as linebacker Devon Kennard recovered for Arizona. The opposing offense capitalized on the turnover as Murray threw a 34-yard pass to wide receiver A.J. Green, setting up a 9-yard touchdown pass to Hopkins for the star’s second score of the game.

The Browns now trailed 30-14 and their next possession took the game into the fourth quarter. Just when it seemed like Cleveland had a chance to make it a one-score game, the Cardinals defense put the nail in the coffin by forcing an incomplete pass out of Mayfield on 4th and 4 just outside the Cardinals’ endzone. As if that weren’t enough, Hunt came away injured on the play.

With a comfortable lead, the Cardinals began to run the ball in hopes of chewing up the clock. Their 93-yard drive, aided by a controversial roughing-the-passer call against Cleveland, ended in a score with Murray finding Green for a 14-yard touchdown to put Arizona up 37-14.

Backup quarterback Case Keenum came in to lead the Browns’ desperate attempt at damage control. Unfortunately, the drive ended in the team’s third turnover on downs of the day as Keenum threw an incomplete pass on 4th and 2 inside Cleveland territory. Cardinals backup quarterback Colt McCoy came in to end the game and give Murray some rest, kneeling and running out the clock to put the Browns out of their misery.

The Cardinals improved to 6-0, blowing out yet another talented team while the Browns fell to a concerning 3-3 and were left reeling from their injuries. The road will not get easier from here, as injuries continue to pile up and the Browns face a short week, hosting the Broncos on Thursday night. Further along the schedule, the Browns will take on the Green Bay Packers and the Las Vegas Raiders. In a division as competitive as the AFC North, featuring the dynamic Baltimore Ravens, the young and offensively brilliant Cincinnati Bengals and the defensively stout Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cleveland Browns’ only hopes of a playoff bid remain in the quick returns from injury for their stars.