On a night of mostly befuddling offensive play from the Cleveland Browns in their 20-13 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, one call stood out as the most confounding of them all.
Down four points with less than 10 minutes to go, Cleveland faced a fourth-and-9 from the Rams’ 40-yard line. Too far to kick a field goal. Too close to settle for a punt. Browns coach Freddie Kitchens opted to go for it.
In the shotgun with Nick Chubb situated to his right, Baker Mayfield faked the hike with a loud cadence, acting as though he was trying to draw the Rams offside. But with two seconds left on the play clock, center JC Tretter snapped the ball to Mayfield who then gave it to Chubb on a delayed handoff. Running right, Chubb was met with contact by Dante Fowler one yard behind the line of scrimmage before being smothered by Eric Weddle following a two-yard gain.
With nine yards to go and pass catchers like Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry on the flanks, Cleveland opted to run a draw. It was an unforgivable play call, one that led directly to a Rams field goal that extended their lead to seven points.
Kitchens was blunt in taking responsibility for the call following the game.
“Bad call,” he said. “Yes, I wanted that call. … It just didn’t work. It was a bad call.”
The call was not so much bad as it was unique and unprecedented. According to Pro Football Focus, Cleveland’s fourth-and-9 draw Sunday night was the first draw play on a fourth-and-9-plus down-and-distance since 2006, when the data was first tracked.
Asked whether he thought the play had a chance against Los Angeles’ front, Mayfield said only, “I’ll go back and look at it.”
The Browns quarterback defended his coach’s play-calling when pressed further.
“I know what you guys are going to try and do is talk about the play-calling,” Mayfield said. “Execution is most important than whatever we have called we have to do our job.”
Despite his QB’s best wishes, Kitchens welcomed the brunt of the blame.
“If you’re looking to blame somebody, blame me,” Kitchens said of Cleveland’s play-calling on the night. “Don’t blame any of our players. Don’t blame any of our other coaches. Just blame me cause I can take it. So just blame me. Go write your article. Say I messed the game up. Go write your article and say it’s my fault cause things aren’t looking like they did last year because it is.”
Cleveland still had a chance to tie and win the game after the bizarre play call. But, down seven points with under a minute, the Browns were stonewalled on four plays from the four-yard line. All the play calls in that sequence were pass attempts.
Kitchens said after the game he wished in that situation he “should’ve run it one time.”
“That’s why I’m kicking myself in the ass right now,” Kitchens added.
It wasn’t the first time on Sunday night, but Browns fans are certainly hoping it’s the last.