Browns takeaways: Myles Garrett defends himself for dapping Lamar Jackson, Kevin Stefanski won't consider QB change

Nate Ulrich
Akron Beacon Journal

BALTIMORE — All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett heard he had received criticism he didn't like and defended himself.

Coach Kevin Stefanski heard a question he didn't appreciate and pushed back by turning the tables.

The Browns know their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread after falling 16-10 to the Baltimore Ravens on “Sunday Night Football” at M&T Bank Stadium, and their frustration isn't difficult to detect.

They're frazzled.

At 6-6 and with five games left, it's a stretch to think the Browns can win out to capture a playoff berth. Even winning four of five games and receiving enough help from other teams in the hunt feels like mission impossible.

“Just keep fighting,” Garrett said. “You never know what's going to happen. Got enough games left where if we keep on trying to win out and it so happens a couple teams lose, we can find ourselves in the playoffs, find ourselves in good position. It's a little more out of our hands than we'd like, but we've got to take it one game at a time, recover in this bye week, self-evaluate, see how we can get better and keep the train moving.”

What the Browns need is a passing game defenses respect, the requisite discipline to significantly reduce penalties and mental toughness.

They are clearly worn down and in need of this week's bye.

“I think we all are very frustrated,” Stefanski said. “It stings.”

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) talks with Cleveland Browns Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) at the end of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Baltimore. The Ravens won 16-10. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett told Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson he made a hell of a play

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson threw four interceptions, but he also made an amazing play to lift his team to 8-3, first place in the AFC North and the top spot in the AFC playoff standings.

On third-and-10 from the Cleveland 13-yard line, Jackson dropped back and avoided a diving attempt at a sack by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Jackson kept scrambling backward and launched a pass from the 35, where Garrett hit his right arm a split second after he released the ball. Tight end Mark Andrews was wide open in the middle of the end zone and caught the 13-yard touchdown pass as the Ravens went ahead 13-3 with 9:48 left in the third quarter.

Garrett shook Jackson's hand and gave him a pat on the back while Clowney ripped off his own helmet and threw it on the ground.

“I said it was a hell of a play, and [Jackson] told me, 'Good stuff,' but more explicit,” Garrett said in his postgame news conference. “Man made a hell of a play. That's what he does. I hit his arm while he was throwing. I was expecting it to be a fumble or an incomplete pass, and he gets it 30 yards down the field into the end zone. Guy's a great player.

“I dapped him up because I have sportsmanship, at least in my eyes. I help guys up. I dap them up when they make a hell of a play like that one that he made. I don't think anything should come out of us having respect for our opponent. I don't think there should be any doubt in our heart of who we are on that field.”

Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) reacts after recording a sack on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, not visible, during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Garrett said he was told after the game he had received criticism, likely on social media, for his interaction with Jackson.

“It got told to me that people had a problem with me dapping up a guy who made an extraordinary play when I was right there in his face,” Garrett said. “I almost made an extraordinary play. The guy's a baller. It's a game. He's one of the best at it. I appreciate greatness. He dapped me up, too. Wasn't like I was patting him on the head and letting him go by. He appreciates my play. I appreciate his. We should do that more often instead of tearing each other down.”

Garrett said he didn't notice Clowney had thrown his helmet down on the field.

“I don't know if it was because he didn't make the play or because he got blocked in the back, either one, but he could have made that play,” Garrett said. “I could have leaped for that play, could have went further on the arm, tried to reach more for the ball. Hindsight's 20-20. I know he wants it bad. We all want it bad. I'm not mad at him for showing his emotion.”

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Garrett considered the defensive performance one of the best the Browns have had against Jackson, the 32nd overall pick in the 2018 draft who won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award in 2019.

“Four picks, constant pressure, had him looking over his shoulder,” Garrett said. “That's a decent job.”

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) looks to throw against the Cleveland Browns.

But Jackson also evaded countless sacks, like he always does. He rushed 17 times for 68 yards (4 average).

“It's frustrating. Everybody knows that,” Garrett said. “Anybody in the league would tell you rushing against that guy is tough. You're rushing against the tackle and him because he's fast, dynamic, shifty, all the words apply, but we've got to find a way. We found a way multiple times, got pressure on him, had hits on him, couple sacks, made him throw the ball away when he didn't want to and it still wasn't enough. We've got to find a way to do more. Two weeks, we've got to find a way at our house.”

After their Week 13 bye, the Browns will host the Ravens on Dec. 12 in their quest for a miraculous run to the playoffs.

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Jackson went 20-of-32 passing (62.5%) for 165 yards and a touchdown with four interceptions for a rating of 46.5. He took two sacks. The Browns were credited with five quarterback hits, led by Garrett's two.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2017, Garrett sacked Jackson for just the second time in his career on the Ravens' first possession of the game. With his 14th sack of the season, Garrett tied the official single-season franchise record for sacks. Reggie Camp set the record in 1984.

The Browns' game captain, Garrett said he didn't feel any satisfaction from the milestone.

“Not with a loss. It wouldn't matter if I had five sacks today. With a loss, it don't mean anything,” said Garrett, who leads the NFL in sacks this season. “I want to win just as bad or more than anybody. No matter what anybody says, what they say about me dapping up Lamar, us dapping up their players, we want to win badly. It didn't roll in our favor, it didn't land in our favor, but these guys are still hungry. They don't care what the standings are. We're going to go out there every game.”

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski looks on during the second half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Kevin Stefanski isn't thinking about benching quarterback Baker Mayfield

When Stefanski was asked whether making a quarterback change during the bye is a possibility, he immediately answered no.

Then Stefanski uncharacteristically turned the tables on the reporter who had asked about switching from starting quarterback Baker Mayfield to backup quarterback Case Keenum.

“Let me ask you a question,” Stefanski said. “Why would we do that?”

The reporter pointed out the Browns haven't been scoring many points lately — they have scored more than 17 points just once in the past seven games.

“We’re not doing that,” Stefanski said of sitting Mayfield.

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Asked to assess Mayfield's outing in Baltimore, Stefanski said, “We had some opportunities and made some big plays, but we have to get guys open, and we’ve got to find a way to stay on the field on third down.”

The Browns converted 4-of-13 third downs (30.8%).

Everyone knows Mayfield has been playing through an injured left, non-throwing shoulder since Week 2 and left heel, right knee and groin injuries in recent weeks. He moved better Sunday night than he had in the previous two games — Stefanski even called a quarterback sneak, and it went for 3 yards. But Mayfield still limped a bit, including after he scrambled for 1 yard with 7:56 left in the first quarter.

“I definitely felt a lot better physically than I have been,” Mayfield said. “So just need to keep improving in that sense. I was able to move around.

“This bye week comes at a pretty crucial time for me to make that turning point and get back to 100%.”

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Nov 28, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) grabs Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) during the second half  at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Mayfield finished 18-of-37 passing (48.6%) for 247 yards and a touchdown without an interception for a rating of 79.4. He took two sacks and ran twice for 4 yards.

“We just need to make more plays,” Mayfield said. “I mean, as simple as that sounds, there’s plays there to be made. Certain situations where we need to have answers for the zero pressure stuff. I mean, they did a good job today when they showed zero pressure and bailing out, and then when they weren't showing it, they brought it. They did a really good job today. We just need to make more plays. We needed to have a little bit more confidence and we go back, regroup and just trust that we have the guys to make those plays.”

Jackson became the first quarterback to throw four interceptions and win since 2013, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Browns scoring just three points off those interceptions is a huge reason why that happened.

“To me, that’s kind of the story of our season so far is not being able to play complementary football,” Mayfield said.

“It's very frustrating. When you have that kind of performance [on defense], I'm not saying you expect to win, but you expect to have a chance,” Garrett said. “That's all we were given. We were given a chance, and we didn't get it done.”

Nov 28, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) rushes during the second half  against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns running game grounded by Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens sold out to stop the run, and they succeeded. The Browns entered the game with the NFL's No. 1-ranked rushing attack (156.8 yards per game), but they gained just 40 yards on 17 carries (2.4 average).

“They're a good defense,” Mayfield said. “They were timing up some of the cadences, shooting the gaps. They played really great, to be honest with you.”

Running back Nick Chubb had eight carries for 16 yards (2 average). In his return from a five-game absence caused by a strained right calf, running back Kareem Hunt had seven carries for 20 yards (2.9 average). Chubb had two catches on four targets for 23 yards, and Hunt had no catches on one target.

The Ravens headed into the game with the league's second-ranked rush defense (88.6 yards allowed per game), and they lived up to the hype, even with six-time Pro Bowl end Calais Campbell (concussion) inactive.

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The Browns' identity is obviously predicated on running the ball, but it's not easy to do without the threat of an effective passing game.

“To not score enough, it’s always a combination of things — it's staying on the field on third down, it's trying to run the ball effectively and getting in the red zone, all of those things,” Stefanski said. “But we’re just not doing a good enough job, and that starts with me.”

Stefanski said he thought the Browns tried to run enough times. He also said Hunt wasn't on the field for the final possession because his leg tightened.

The Browns' defeat was sealed with a turnover on downs. On fourth-and-10 from the Cleveland 25, Mayfield threw under pressure to tight end David Njoku, who was tacked 3 yards short of a first down by outside linebacker Tyus Bowser with 48 seconds left to play.

“Our only pressure answer to the pressure was the shallow [route],” Mayfield said. “So it’s asking a lot for David to run away from [Bowser] and break a tackle. Just didn’t have an answer.”

Cleveland Browns kicker Chase McLaughlin watches his 30-yard field goal during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Cleveland Browns sticking with kicker Chase McLaughlin

Stefanski spoke as if the Browns won't consider a kicker change during the bye, either.

Chase McLaughlin missed a 46-yard field goal wide left with 11:41 remaining in the first quarter. He also made a 46-yard field goal with 1:02 remaining in the second quarter, but the ball hit the left upright.

“We have high expectations for him,” Stefanski said. “I think he has high expectations for himself. He came back and hit [a field goal] for us. So we’re going to continue to count on him down the stretch.”

McLaughlin had an extra point blocked and missed a 46-yard field goal wide right last week in a 13-10 win over the Detroit Lions. He has made 26-of-27 extra points and 14-of-18 field goals this season.

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com.