When Pat Shurmur agreed to become the new head coach of the Browns, he undoubtedly knew there would be good days and bad days.
What he didn’t realize was that in Cleveland, for whatever reason, the bad days vastly outnumber the good days for the head coach. Just ask Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini.
Shurmur found that out big time following Sunday’s 13-12 loss to the St. Louis Rams when he faced the media, the necessary evil within the framework of his job. The Browns could have – and should have – won that game any number of ways and the media wanted to know why they didn’t.
Although they didn’t couch their questions that way, Shurmur was fair game to explain why his club couldn’t beat the 1-7 Rams. And he reacted in a manner that belied his normally stoic persona.
Asked why tight end Alex Smith was called on to carry the ball from the fullback position inside the St. Louis 10-yard line on what was supposed to be the winning drive late in the fourth quarter, Shurmur said that was the play called even though Smith had never been the recipient of a handoff in his career. He fumbled it, but the Browns luckily recovered.
Shurmur claimed he knew Smith was in the game at the fullback position because Owen Marecic had suffered an injury a few plays earlier. And still, the play was dialed up.
Asked a second time about that play, the seemingly imperturbable veneer cracked and we saw another side of the head coach. “C’mon now,” Shurmur said in a scolding manner. “We tried to hand (Smith) the football and he dropped it. That’s the thinking. From the moment that it was in there, that’s what happened.
“We’ve got to do a better job. There were so many things that happened in that game. Missing the kick (Phil Dawson’s botched field-goal attempt), dropping the . . . there are a lot of things. There was a lot of good, there was a lot of bad. All right?”
Shurmur looked uncomfortable. It was as though the last place he wanted to be at that moment was facing the media after such a wrenching loss. The news conference couldn’t have ended soon enough for him.
At one point, he got strangely personal. “I promised everybody that I would be genuine,” he said. “From day one to the last day. And I’m genuine right now in saying that. We can focus on what we want to focus on, but we lost (pounding the lectern) the game. That’s genuine.”
Just another case of a Browns coach having difficulty handling what turned out to be, at least for the fans, just another loss snatched from the jaws of victory. It’s happened so often the last dozen seasons, fans have come to expect them.
The what-can-go-wrong-and-usually-does syndrome, a.k.a. Murphy’s Law, is alive and not doing very well in Cleveland.
* * *
A clear sign that the engine dragging the Browns through the 2011 season is on the wrong track and gaining speed is the performance of the special teams. Last season, they were the one staple as the offense and defense collapsed.
This season, special teams have joined their offensive and defensive brethren as trouble spots. And when all three phases of the game head in the wrong direction, disaster looms. The infection has spread.
You know it’s bad when Joshua Cribbs fumbles a punt, Ryan Pontbriand has a bad snap and Dawson misses a short field goal. Combined with an offense still seeking its personality and a defense wearing down because it is on the field so much, is it any wonder why it’s so difficult to be optimistic about the rest of this season?
* * *
This is how bad the offense has become: The Browns have scored just 40 points in the last four games and Dawson has 34 of them. The other six points belong to Cribbs, who caught a touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter of the San Francisco loss in week eight.
In nine games thus far, the Browns have scored more than two touchdowns only once. That was against the awful Indianapolis Colts in week two. Other than that, they’ve scored two TDs three times (Cincinnati, Miami and Oakland) and one TD twice (San Francisco and Tennessee). They have been held without a touchdown in three games.
At home, where they are 2-3, the Browns’ offense has scored a robust five touchdowns, the last coming with 3:24 left in the 31-13 Tennessee loss in week four. Since then, all 18 points at CBS have come off the right foot of Dawson. Since that Ben Watson TD catch against the Titans, the Browns have gone 123 minutes and 24 seconds without scoring a touchdown at home.
And this is with a west coast offense. Somewhere, the ghost of Bill Walsh is blushing with embarrassment.
* * *
Stream of thought: Colt McCoy seems much more comfortable in the shotgun and his 20-for-27 afternoon against the Rams reflects that. Don’t be surprised if we see a lot more of that as the season progresses. . . . Where has the run defense gone? Weren’t Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard supposed to make a difference? . . . Nice to see veteran linebackers Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong have solid games against the Rams. Now let’s see if they can perform at that level against the likes of the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. . . . Great quote by Dawson after the Rams loss: “What is it that Darrell Royal (former University of Texas football coach and athletic director) would say? If worms had guns, birds wouldn’t eat them.” . . . The Browns still haven’t scored a touchdown in the first and third quarters this season. . . . One last Dawson stat: The Browns have scored 131 points this season. Dawson has 65 of them, or 49.6%.