Broncos put a likely dagger in Cleveland's playoff hopes

DENVER -- The Denver Broncos ended a pair of magical Cleveland Browns seasons during the 1980s.

Sunday, Denver might have simply put this debacle of a Browns season out of its misery.

Once again, Cleveland failed to produce the winning play down the stretch, as Denver held on 24-19 at Empower Field at Mile High -- a loss that most likely will be the dagger in the Browns’ ever-evaporating playoff hopes.

At 2-6, with one of the NFL’s easiest remaining schedules, Cleveland technically isn’t yet out of the playoff picture. But if the Browns couldn’t defeat Brandon Allen in his first career start quarterbacking a previously dilapidated Denver offense, whom can they beat?

Underlying what a disaster of a season this has become, the Browns finally cleaned up the penalties and eliminated the turnovers in Denver, only to flop in the red zone offensively while collapsing on defense.

The only real question for Cleveland now is, what changes are on the way? Because the Browns remain what they’ve largely been since their return to the NFL at the turn of the millennium: a losing football team.

Biggest hole in the game plan: On two critical plays, the Browns left Nick Chubb, their best player this season, off the field. On third-and-3 from the Denver 21, they instead gave the ball to Dontrell Hilliard, who was stuffed for no gain, forcing Cleveland to settle for a field goal. Far more critically in the third quarter, the Browns went for it on fourth-and-1. But with Chubb on the sidelines again, Cleveland went with a Baker Mayfield QB sneak. Mayfield was stopped short of a first down, robbing the Browns of another touchdown opportunity.

Troubling trend: The Browns still can’t get Odell Beckham Jr. the ball in key moments. On fourth-and-4 with 3:23 left in fourth quarter, Mayfield had OBJ potentially streaking open down the sideline. Instead, he tried to force the ball to Jarvis Landry in double coverage over the middle, and the Broncos batted the ball away. Cleveland's offense never touched the ball again. Beckham finished with five receptions for 87 yards, but on only six targets. He hasn’t had a touchdown catch since Week 2.

Describe the game in two words: Season over. In the Super Bowl era, only one team has made the playoffs after starting 2-6 or worse through eight games. The 1970 Bengals started 1-6 and then won seven straight to reach the playoffs.