CLEVELAND — CLEVELAND — So, that was easy.
At least no harder than a Matterhorn climb.
Or an English Channel swim or breaking the Axis Code.
Or locating somebody in witness protection (But more on Rashard Higgins later).
Sunday was as easy as all of that combined.
We have no earthly idea what a late game-winning drive to defeat Buffalo 19-16 does for the Browns or their season. Maybe a lot. Maybe nothing.
For now, it only beats the alternative.
Once upon a time, a more impressive win over Baltimore looked like the springboard to a deep dive into playoff contention. The Browns then lost four straight.
So we won’t know what it all means, if anything, until the Browns at the very least prove they can put another foot in front of this one.
That opportunity comes Thursday against Pittsburgh at home, where there did not seem to be much of an advantage until the final drive of the game Sunday. And only then after an incomplete Baker Mayfield shovel pass — yes, that again — turned so ugly the refs initially ruled a fumble returned for a TD.
I have a Twitter feed that suggests the good people of Cleveland weren’t exactly utilizing the power of positive thinking during that review.
We can only say that what happened after—Mayfield leading a game-winning drive that ended in a seven-yard TD pass to a wide open Higgins—was a lifeline to a fan base that deserved to be rescued from another bizarre football Sunday.
"I don’t think we played nearly as well as we can," Baker Mayfield said. "There’s a lot of room for improvement. [But winning on the last drive] goes a long way mentally."
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Lose this one and there’s no coming back from it. Not after what happened in the shadow of the goal line to an offense brimming with talent.
The Browns all but built a settlement inside the Buffalo five-yard line in the first half, but somehow proved historically inept squatters.
Passes intended for Odell Beckham Jr. brought deserved interference calls and automatic first downs. Criticized in past games for not using his best playmakers in the red zone, Freddie Kitchens went almost exclusively with throws to Beckham and handoffs to Nick Chubb.
"If we get down there again, we’re going to run it again," Kitchens said of feeding Chubb.
And, presumably, if he gets down there again he’ll stubbornly eschew a field goal as he did Sunday. Kitchens decisions and game management continue to baffle. He was ready to pass up another field goal try later at the Buffalo three-yard line when a false start forced him to take the three points.
Only half-jokingly—maybe—is that false start being called the penalty that might’ve saved the season.
Aggressive is good. Blindly aggressive not so much. The noise in the end zone, compliments of Bills fans, contributed to the false start. Austin Siebert made it 9-7 with a 27-yard field goal, or maybe the Browns get nothing out of that set of downs either.
Mayfield referenced the "crowd noise" causing issues and left no doubt he didn’t appreciate so many visitors having such a voice at the lakefront.
But at 2-6, with three home losses, Browns players shouldn’t complain about home field advantage. Or 3-6, with one lonely win at home, for that matter.
There is time and opportunity for them to string wins together and threaten the postseason. They’ll play some teams before too long—looking at you Dolphins and Bengals—that shouldn’t be able to handle Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the same backfield (Provided the Browns put them in the backfield and don’t leave Mayfield vulnerable to getting sacked in the end zone for a safety, for instance).
Chubb and Hunt accounted for nearly 200 yards offense and Hunt proved to be a willing blocker. Chubb’s 21-yard run on the final drive belongs on his highlight reel.
Until that final TD, the red zone calamity seemed destined to be the ruination of the Browns. Right up until another bizarre play trumped it.
The Browns defense, which hasn’t exactly been a turnover machine, forced Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen to fumble inside the Browns five. Not only did the Browns fail to recover, Bills guard Jon Feliciano fell on it for a first down. The Bills scored, taking a 16-12 lead.
But Mayfield looked like his 2018 self on the final drive. Chubb was Chubb and Landry made up for a taunting penalty after his first touchdown with a terrific 24-yard reception to the seven.
A strike to Higgins, who was more involved with Antonio Callaway out of action as a non-injury scratch, lifted the gloom that had settled into the stadium.
For good reason. Now comes the hard part: Keeping it away Thursday and for the rest of a season in which the Browns, through their own bungling, have left no room for error.