The starting quarterback is injured and won’t be close to 100% — if he even plays. The passing game isn’t producing nearly enough big plays or points and the season has grown desperate.
The Cleveland Browns have similar complications.
Shaken by an embarrassing, humbling 38-point loss at New England last week, when Patriots coach Bill Belichick seemed to enjoy toying with his former team, the Browns (5-5) head into Sunday’s matchup versus the Lions (0-8-1) without any more wiggle room in a season going sideways.
Their hopes of winning the AFC North, making the playoffs and perhaps a Super Bowl title run seem a bit far-fetched at the moment. But in a nonsensical season in which elite teams are few and far between, anything seems possible.
“We’re within striking distance,” said Browns left guard Joel Bitonio, who has been on more than a few roller-coaster rides in Cleveland since 2014. “We’re not where we want to be, but we have everything left. There’s a lot less room for error now, but we’re good.”
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Actually, it’s hard to figure out the Browns — one of the NFL’s most talented yet unpredictable teams.
Two weeks ago, they overpowered Cincinnati 41-16 while playing their most complete match this season.
A week later, it was just the opposite as the Browns couldn’t do anything right.
The past few days have been filled with corrections and reflection.
“It’s a humbling process,” said quarterback Baker Mayfield, who expects to face the Lions despite shoulder, foot and knee injuries. “It’s very easy to look around and try to find excuses, but when it comes down to it we have seven more games right now to be able to figure out how to make it work.
“And we have a lot of division games in front of us, and that’s the most important part.”
The Browns aren’t good enough to take anyone lightly, especially the Lions, who managed a 16-16 tie last week at Pittsburgh and were within a missed field goal in overtime of shocking the Steelers.
Detroit returned from its bye week emphasizing the run on offense and playing with the same intensity on defense that has kept the Lions in most games.
Bitonio played on Cleveland’s 0-16 team in 2017, when the Browns lost twice in OT and lost four other games by four points or less.
He said the Lions will not be overlooked.
“They play as hard as anybody,” said Bitonio, who has warned his younger teammates about the pitfalls of overconfidence. “It’s not like you’re at Alabama, just walk in and beat a team. Records don’t mean anything. You come out, you have to perform. “You just have these games where it’s like, ‘Oh, this team should win.’ But it’s the NFL, so anything can happen.”
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