In private moments everyone on the team has to have looked up at the sky at least once and asked, why?
It was all good for the Cleveland Browns in Week 3. They put together one of the most dominating performances of the entire 2021 season in their 26-6 defeat of the Chicago Bears, but there hasn’t been much good news since then. They eked out a win against the Minnesota Vikings the following week, and quarterback Baker Mayfield had a rough outing. He separated his non-throwing shoulder Week 2, and has been fighting through it ever since.
Now the Browns have lost their last two games, and have a quick turnaround game Thursday Night against the Denver Broncos. Mayfield was going ready to tough out another game, but the Browns have told him no. That separated shoulder is now a completely torn labrum.
It’s bad enough the Browns will be without their starting quarterback, but they are facing the Broncos with 19 players in total listed on their injury report. Six of those players were inactive in their Sunday loss to the Arizona Cardinals including running back Nick Chubb and both starting offensive tackles, Jedrick Willis Jr. and Jack Conklin.
Chubb has already been ruled out with a calf injury that he suffered in the Browns Week 5 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Joining him on the sideline will be the other half of the Browns rushing attack, Kareem Hunt. He is on IR with a calf injury that he suffered on Sunday. Conklin was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday as was Willis who hasn’t played since Week 4. Also, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. hasn’t practiced all week due to a shoulder injury he suffered on Sunday and the Browns are holding onto hope that their leading receiver from 2020, Jarvis Landry, returns from IR on Thursday.
Injury is always the unfortunate but inevitable part of sports, but the Browns got snakebitten. Coming off of a season in which they won their first playoff game since 1994, the Browns went into 2021 with a loaded roster and legitimate high expectations. Now the whole season is unraveling injury by injury. Journeyman quarterback Case Keenum will be starting in a home game they need to win to keep their record from dipping under .500 with a banged-up offensive line, third-string running back and without the teams’ top two receiving targets.
After Thursday, three of the Browns’ next five games are against divisional opponents and they will be playing the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens on the road. Also, the Browns bye week does not come until Week 13 in December.
The Browns’ first-ever AFC North title was no longer a mirage this year, it was an oasis with their young, balanced and talented roster well on its way. Instead, the Bengals are carving up opposing defenses in the air and the Ravens have the best record in the entire AFC, while way too many members of the young, talented, and balanced Browns are in sweatsuits on game day instead of a helmet and shoulder pads.
It’d be a shame if injury prevents the Browns from making a second-consecutive playoff run. All those years of terrible seasons just to add on a “What if?” season.