They lost 24-19 to the Broncos at Mile High Stadium on Sunday to fall to 2-6 and watch their playoff hopes quickly slipping away. The Broncos, who started a quarterback in Brandon Allen who had never taken a snap in an NFL game, improved to 3-6.
Since division realignment in 2002, no team has started 2-6 and gone to the playoffs.
The Browns have lost four games in a row.
The Browns went 0-for-4 trying to score touchdowns in the red zone, kicking field goals instead. They were also stopped once by the Broncos on a fourth and 1 at the Denver 5-yard line and at the end of the game on a crucial fourth and 4.
To make matters worse, the Steelers beat the Colts to improve to 4-4.
Allen, who was supposed to represent a break for the Browns, completed 12-of-20 for 193 yards and two touchdowns for a 125.6 rating.
The Browns, trailing 24-19, had a chance to win the game on a drive that began with 7:21 left and one timeout left, but they were stopped on the fourth and 4 on a pass over the middle for a double-covered Jarvis Landry. Odell Beckham Jr. was open down the left side on the play.
The pass was broken up by Kareem Jackson and Davontae Harris.
The breakup wasted a sensational 39-yard catch by Beckham, who caught the ball over four-time Pro Bowler Chris Harris and bobbled it before he hauled it in at the Denver 34. Nick Chubb was dropped for a 3-yard loss back to the 28 to bring up the fateful fourth and 4.
The Broncos increased their lead to 24-12 with 1:06 left in the third on a 30-yard run by Phillip Lindsay. The score was set up by a 24-yard pass to tight end Noah Fant.
But the Browns stormed back with a great drive of their own, a 9-play, 76-yard march that ended in a 9-yard TD catch by Landry. He juked a defender at the five and scampered in on the left side to cut the deficit to 24-10. Austin Seibert’s extra point attempt hit the right upright but went in.
The drive featured a great 27-yard catch, spin and run by Beckham and a great second-effort 11-yard run by Nick Chubb. Beckham also drew a pass interference call.
The Browns went three-and-out on the opening drive of the third quarter. Instead of going for it on fourth and 1, they punted from their 34. The defense forced a three and out, and the Browns took over with great field position, at his 48. Mayfield was sacked on the opening play for a 5-yard loss, and Antonio Callaway was stopped for a loss, but the Broncos committed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty to fuel the drive. Landry caught a 19-yarder to the Denver 14 on a slant, and then caught a 6-yarder to the 7.
But Mayfield was stopped short on a fourth-and-1 from the 5 with 5:16 and trailing 17-12. Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, at the urging of Mayfield, challenged and lost his first time out. It was the Browns’ fourth trip inside the red zone without a TD. This time, they didn’t even get a field goal.
The Browns trailed 17-12 at the half after kicking three field goals inside the red zone and one from the 21.
Seibert made kicks of 39, 30, 27 and 30 to keep the Browns in the game as they stalled time and again in the red zone.
Meanwhile, the Broncos burned the Browns on some huge plays, including an 87-yard catch-and-run for a TD by Fant that made it 14-3, and a 40-yard blast by running back Lindsay that led to a 43-yard field goal.
The Broncos opened the scoring on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Allen to receiver Courtland Sutton, who leaped up over Denzel Ward to snatch the ball away from the cornerback. Ward also gave up a 14-yard pass to Sutton the play before.
Mayfield spoiled his next drive with high, hard passes after a sack that Landry and Beckham couldn’t corral. The one to Beckham, on a third and 17, was a laser shot that glanced off his upstretched hands.
With the Broncos pinned at their own 13, the Browns forced a three-and-out, and the Browns started their ensuing drive at the Denver 40. But Dontrell Hilliard was stuffed for no gain on third and 3 at the 21, and the Browns were forced to settle for a 39-yard Seibert field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3.
But the tiny bit of momentum was short-lived. On the next play, Allen found Fant open for a 10-yard pass in the left flat, and he made three Browns defenders miss en route to the 75-yard catch-and-run for a TD. Jermaine Whitehead, Greedy Williams and Adarius Taylor all grasped for air as Fant pranced past them into the end zone for the 14-3 lead with 12:34 left in the half.
Antonio Callaway sparked some life for the Browns with a 41-yard catch-and-run on a bubble screen, and Mayfield gained 16 yards on a third and 14 to the Broncos’ 17. Once again, they stalled, with Davontae Harris breaking up a pass to Callaway in the end zone. Seibert kicked a 30-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-6.
Myles Garrett dropped a ball tipped to him by T.J. Carrie deep in Broncos’ territory, but the play was nullified anyway by a holding call on Ward.
But Ward atoned for his mistakes a few plays later when he recovered a Diontae Spencer fumble, forced by Joe Schobert with 6:11 left in the half.
Despite starting that drive at the Broncos’ 18, the Browns managed just a field goal again, this time a 27-yarder that closed the gap to 14-9. On second and 9, Demetrius Harris was out of bounds on a catch in the back of the end zone on a post route, and then Landry was tripped on the third down pass — with no flag thrown — and the pass fell incomplete.
Lindsay ripped off the 40-yard rumble on the next drive, and it led to a 43-yard Broncos field goal for a 17-9 advantage. Allen was off on a pair of throws to Sutton before the kick.
Mayfield took over at his own 25 with 1:47 left in the half and a chance to close within a point or even tie the game. For the third drive of the half, the Browns penetrated the Broncos’ red zone, but couldn’t scored a TD.
Mayfield found KhaDarel for a 10-yard pass on a third and 1 to the Denver 34, and found Landry for 13 on to the 19 on third and 8. But he threw incomplete to Rashard Higgins and then threw one away at the right side of the end zone to bring up a third and 10 at the 19. He completed a 7-yarder to Ricky Seals-Jones over the middle, and the tight end was hurt on the play and jogged off with a limp. Seibert kicked a 30-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the half.
Mayfield was almost picked off on his first drive on a pass intended for Landry, but linebacker Alexander Johnson dropped the ball that was tipped by Malik Reed. Heading in, Landry led the league with five balls intended for him that were picked off.
Wyatt Teller started at right guard in place of Eric Kush and Greg Robinson got his job back at left tackle. Robinson gave up a sack on the Browns’ second drive.
The Browns host the 6-2 Bills Sunday at 1 p.m. at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.