The 2019 Cleveland Browns will not be fondly remembered in Northeast Ohio. Instead, they will serve as more of a cautionary tale – a pigskin Icarus. Their 6-10 record fell well short of the pre-season expectations and wound up costing Head Coach Freddie Kitchens and General Manager John Dorsey their jobs. The Browns head into 2020 mired in uncertainty with question marks around the front office and on-field product which may make the following statement seem odd: it wasn’t all bad news.
The Browns struggled to be sure, but there were moments and players who provided if not a glimpse of promise than a moment of joy for Cleveland’s beleaguered football fans. Herein lies a quick rundown:
Nick Chubb’s Emergence. The most shocking aspect of Nick Chubb’s story is that he was a second-round pick. A reliable, elusive, speedy back like Chubb could easily have gone in the top five most seasons. The Browns struck gold with the former Georgia Bulldog and he more than earned his keep in 2019. Nick Chubb rushed for 1,494 yards – 46 short of the league leader – and scored eight touchdowns. He averaged five yards per carry and 93.4 yards per game. A receiving threat, Chubb pulled down 36 receptions for 278 yards. He stole the show against Baltimore with the 88-yard touchdown run that iced the game for Cleveland and was the first thousand-plus yard back since Peyton Hillis’ 1,177 yards in 2010. All this combined for Chubb’s first Pro Bowl honor. Fun fact, in 1964 Jim Brown rushed for 1,446 yards so Chubb is in good company.
Monday Night Winner. The NFL tries to put its most exciting teams on Monday Night Football which means the Browns are not often invited. However, Cleveland graced two MNF games in 2019 including a 23-3 victory over the New York Jets in Week 2. This marked the Browns’ first Monday Night victory since Week 11 of the 2008 season – a 29-27 win over Buffalo. Cleveland is 5-9 all-time on Monday.
A Kicker Emerges. After last season’s kicking woes, Browns fans expected a steady, veteran foot on the special teams unit. Instead, former General Manager John Dorsey rolled the dice on rookie fifth-round pick Austin Seibert. The former Oklahoma Sooner missed his first extra point, but proved to be generally reliable. He connected on 25 field goals (No. 12 in NFL) on 29 attempts, good for 86% accuracy (No. 14). None of his kicks were blocked and his season-long was 53 yards. He was a perfect 15-for-15 from 39 yards or closer, went 9-of-12 from 40-49 yards, and made 1-of-2 from over 50 yards. He hit on 30 extra pointers (No. 18) on 35 attempts, good for 86% (No. 38). There is room for improvement on the extra point front, but Seibert should be back for more in 2020.
The Bills Comeback. Spiraling in a four-game losing streak, the Browns needed a win to keep the season alive when the Buffalo Bills came to visit in Week 10. A rough, hard to watch game appeared to sour when the Bills scored a go-ahead touchdown with 5:26 left to take a 16-12 lead. Would Baker Mayfield have the goods to lead the Browns on a game-winning drive? It didn’t appear so on second and seven at the Browns 35 when Mayfield fumbled leading to a Buffalo defensive touchdown. But wait! An officials’ review determined Mayfield threw an incompletion instead. Mayfield completed passes to Kareem Hunt, Odell Beckham Jr, and Jarvis Landry to set the Browns up with a first and goal. After a Nick Chubb run for no gain, Baker found Rashard Higgins for a seven-yard touchdown to give Cleveland a 19-16 lead. Buffalo drove down field then did what they did best – missed a field goal. The game didn’t save the season, but it sure was fun.
Landry’s Pro Bowl Season. Odell Beckham Jr. stole the headlines, but Jarvis Landry staked his claim as the Browns’ number one receiver. Landry caught 83 passes for 1,174 yards and six touchdowns. He scored twice against his old team, the Dolphins, for some revenge and seemed to find a way to get open when the club most needed him. Landry has truly found a second home in Cleveland and has produced when called upon.
Six Wins. Expectations were clearly too high before the season began. As a result, six wins feels like a crushing disappointment. However, in the grand scheme of things, six wins are still more than the 2015-17 seasons combined. The Browns hadn’t won six or more games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001-02. So…that’s something.
Many of these accomplishments will read as a day late and a dollar short which is understandable. Dreams of home playoff games danced in Cleveland’s head during the preseason and the ensuring games were as fun as a freezing cold bucket of water. While the season did not end the way anyone wanted, it still had a few enjoyable moments along the way. Plus, the Browns beat the Steelers; just don’t watch any highlights after the two-minute warning.