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Breaking down the biggest plays and those embarrassing referee calls: Jay Crawford on that Cleveland Browns win against Jacksonville Jaguars

'This game will mostly be remembered for the ineptness of an officiating crew that is supposed to be at the highest level. In a word, they were an embarrassment.'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win. Sound familiar? That could sum up just about every one of the Browns eight wins this season. But this is a league of no excuses and no apologies. As former NFL head coach Bill Parcells once famously quipped, you are what your record says you are, and after the Browns painstakingly close 27-25 win in Jacksonville Sunday, the Browns are 8-3.

It didn’t have to be such a nail-biter. It was as close as it was because of a few key Browns miscues, but more glaringly, a few head-scratching calls by an officiating crew that shouldn’t draw a paycheck. Yes, they were that bad. Playing with a defense loaded with back-ups, the Browns were just good enough to beat a 1-9 Jacksonville team that has made a habit of losing close games in 2020. Sunday’s loss to the Browns was the Jaguars fourth this season within four points.

First, the Browns’ miscues. The misfires from Baker Mayfield in the red zone are becoming a bit of an issue. He missed two open receivers in the end zone last week on a drive that resulted in no points, and he missed two open receivers in the end zone again this week, forcing the Browns to settle for a field goal. He also threw behind a wide open Kareem Hunt on a critical third down miss that would help stall a drive late in the game. These are misses you get away with against a 1-9 team. These are also the plays that can decide games against good teams.

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While pointing out his misses, I’d be remiss if I didn’t praise Mayfield for his overall play. He hit on 19 of 29 passes for 258 and his two passing touchdowns and no interceptions were key in the win. This is the fourth straight game Mayfield has not thrown an interception and he put several throws in tight windows in huge spots to continue drives. It was great to see his connection with Jarvis Landry. Landry caught eight passes for 143 yards and his first touchdown catch of the season. Mayfield said after the game he has to be better, and he will. He’ll need to be if the Browns are to have any chance to beat the Titans, Ravens or Steelers.

While calling a mostly good game, Kevin Stefanski made a few questionable decisions that I’m sure he’d like to have back. Misusing a challenge on a play the league never overturns cost the Browns a timeout, and a few play calls on a late sequence were especially confusing. With the Browns facing a 3rd and 1 on the Jacksonville 22 yard line, Stefanski called a pass play. Why? The game clock was inside six minutes. You have Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Why get cute and try to pass the ball there? Even though Hunt was wide open, Mayfield threw too hard and behind Hunt bringing up a fourth and one. Kick the 39 yard field goal there, and the Browns go up 30-19 making it a two score game with around five and a half minutes to play. Instead the Browns went for it. I know the thinking was to pick up the first down and put the game away, but a field goal essentially does the same thing. Cody Parkey has proven to be worthy of trying such kicks. But officials again robbed Hunt on the spot, and even though the TV cameras seemed to show the Browns had reached a first down even with the sloppy spot, the referee raises his hands a foot apart as if to convince the viewers we are all as blind as they are. similar hack job cost the Browns a win against the Raiders two years ago. The same thing could have happened Sunday.

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The Jaguars went right through the Browns mostly back-up defense to the tune of 78 yards in 11 plays, taking only 3:15 off the game clock. Fortunately for the Browns, the Jaguars missed on the two-point conversion, allowing the Browns to hold on to the slim 27-25 lead. They also needed to overcome the second horrible holding call on JC Tretter converting on a third and 12 pass to Nick Chubb to pick up the game-sealing first down.

This game will mostly be remembered for the ineptness of an officiating crew that is supposed to be at the highest level. In a word, they were an embarrassment. Every bad call favored the Jaguars. From the two phantom holding calls against JC Tretter, to the unnecessary roughness on Oliver Vernon to allow the Jaguars to keep a late drive and the game alive, to the inexplicable spotting errors that kept the Browns from getting a first down that would have essentially ended the game. The league has to be better. Then again, what do we expect from the same folks that sent the Broncos out to play a game with no quarterbacks on the roster against the Saints? What, because they’re not in a playoff spot the Broncos have to soldier on instead of getting relief from the NFL? Meanwhile the league twice postpones the Ravens-Steelers game. The league has eroded fan trust. One could argue officiating has never been worse. Roger Goodell can’t show his face at a league event with fans without getting soundly booed. That’s because of a string of bad decisions that often leave fans wondering how the NFL is the most popular sport in America. It’s because we can’t quit it. We’re all hooked in spite of the officiating. And the leadership. Lucky for the league.

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THE FALL OF ’69: That was the last time the Browns had a better record through 11 games. They were 8-2-1 to start the season. The Browns finished that season 10-3-1 winning one playoff game and losing the other.

LOSING SEASON STREAK OVER: The string of consecutive losing seasons is finally over. With the Browns win against Jacksonville they ensure their first non-losing season since 2007. Thank you, Kevin Stefanski.

SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY: With the win against Jacksonville, the Browns are currently 3-0 against the AFC South beating the Colts and Texans as well.

MAYFIELD MOMENTUM: With his fourth straight interception-free game, Baker is beginning to build some momentum. With 66 career passing TD’s Mayfield passes, Cam Newton and Jared Goff on the list of most passing TD’s by a number one overall pick through three seasons. He is now fourth on that list, trailing only Jameis Winston (69), Peyton Manning (85) and Andrew Luck (86).

FIVE GAME SEASON: The Browns currently sit in the first wildcard spot with five games remaining. The Raiders’ loss to the Falcons helps Cleveland with the Raiders slipping to 6-5 and a pair of games behind the Browns. Important because LV has beaten the Browns. The Browns now face the toughest five game stretch on their schedule @ TENN, vs BALT, @ NYG, @ NYJ, vs PITT. Though the Giants are only 4-7, they currently sit in first place in the NFC East and will need that game. Then they have the 0-11 Jets. Who wants the pressure of playing an 0-11 team? The Titans, Ravens and Steelers will be favored to the beat the Browns. They will likely have to find a way to pull an upset in one of those three, while holding serve against the NY teams. It should be a fun five weeks.

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