Sunday, September 23, 2012

Who said it couldn't get worse

It was just a minute after the Buffalo Bills hung a 24-14 loss on the Browns Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

The Factory of Sadness emptied quietly as the two teams gathered for the usual post-game handshakes. But someone was missing from that little ritual.

Trent Richardson sat alone on the Cleveland bench as the CBS television cameras honed in on him. All his teammates were on the field exchanging pleasantries with the Bills after yet another loss. And yet, Richardson did not move.

The look on his face as this all unfolded said it all. He didn’t want to be out there with his mates. And who could blame him?

He wasn’t displeased. Oh, no. That would be too mild.

And he didn’t look quizzical. When you’re team is winless in its first three games, that might be a normal expression.

No, the rookie running back looked angry. Very angry. Frustratingly angry.

The camera held the shot of the glaring Richardson for several seconds before moving on. But it was a telling look.

This loss burrowed deep into Richardson’s mind. After last Sunday’s breakout performance in the loss in Cincinnati, this was the game that was going to vault the Browns into the victory column.

You could see it on his face after scoring the Browns’ first touchdown in the second quarter to pull them to within 14-7 after the Bills nearly ran away and hid following a 14-point first quarter, during which the Browns recorded a trio of three-and-outs and 13 net yards.

Returning to the sideline, Richardson went from player to player, beseeching them to step it up even more. Just about everyone received his attention. The rookie was taking charge. You could see the fire in his eyes.

He wanted no part of oh and three. It gnawed at him.

For all we know, Richardson has never been a part of a team that has lost its first three games. Not at Escambia High School in Pensacola, Fla., and certainly not at the University of Alabama.

He is used to winning football. This feeling was quite foreign to him.

Only one problem. His teammates responded by playing emotionless football. In a game that requires extreme emotion, the Browns arrived at CBS bankrupt in that department. Except for Richardson, that is.

It became abundantly clear early on that the Browns were being outpunched, outhustled and generally mauled by the Bills in the trenches.

It’s a standard axiom in the National Football League – hell, make that football in general – that the team that wins the battles in the trenches is usually the team that wins the battle of the scoreboard.

The Bills, a team that entered the game with an eight-game road losing streak and could have been had Sunday with any kind of effort, took it to the Browns all afternoon despite losing star running back C. J. Spiller to a shoulder injury early in the game.

The Browns failed time and again to capitalize on their few opportunities. If it wasn’t a penalty that negated one of the few plus plays of the afternoon, it was Dimitri Patterson dropping a sure pick-6 on a tipped pass late in the second quarter that would have tied the game at 14-14.

As the TV guys said at the time, the ball hit Patterson in a bad place – between the 2 and 1 on his uniform. Good teams, even mediocre teams, make the easy play. Bad ones do not.

Draw your own conclusions.

The players ultimately wind up taking the greater amount of the heat following a loss. But this one must be blamed on the Cleveland coaching staff, most notably head coach Pat Shurmur.

When you play the Buffalo Bills, a team that will not make the playoffs this season, especially at home, you should win. The Bills are not that good. The Browns are just that bad.

They were not prepared well, nor placed in a good position to beat Buffalo. The offensive line was beat up all afternoon. It was an unfair fight as the Bills’ front four consistently beat the Browns off the snap. Brandon Weeden barely had time to throw for the most part.

The Bills, who had only five sacks entering the game, racked up four more and came dangerously close to doubling that. The rookie Cleveland quarterback will wake up Monday morning, assuming he sleeps at all, with some nasty bruises and welts on his body.

For those who thought this was bad, awaiting Weeden and his highly overrated offensive line in the next two games are the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants, who know a little bit about pressuring quarterbacks. Both games are on the road.

And let’s not dismiss the Cleveland defensive line, which put virtually no pressure on Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for what seemed all afternoon. The only sack credited to the Browns was when an attempted pass slipped out of Fitzpatrick’s hand as the Bills were driving for a third touchdown early in the second quarter.

It was ruled a strip sack, a fumble and a Cleveland recovery after Shurmur successfully challenged the ruling on the field. It was his best move of the day. All it did was delay the inevitable.

That’s because the Cleveland offense, with the exception of a two scoring drives, fired blanks. Throw in at least four dropped passes and pass protection that went from worse to awful and you have the ingredients for a loss.

Other than a nine-play, 67-yard TD drive late in the second quarter that ended with a six-yard scoring jaunt by Richardson, and a 13-play, 80-yard march that concluded with a 22-yard scoring strike to Travis Benjamin on a nice throw by Weeden late in the third quarter, the offense was MIA.

In the other 10 drives, the Browns generated 93 yards and seven first downs in 38 plays. The Bills’ front four dominated, especially up the middle. In a test of wills, the Browns wanted no part of the Bills.

The final insult was delivered by Buffalo coach Chan Gailey, although Shurmur might not see it that way.

After Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin picked Weeden with 1:43 left and returned the ball to the Cleveland 1, Gailey instructed Fitzpatrick to take three knees rather, I suspect, than be accused of running up the score and embarrassing his counterpart.

The Browns were out of timeouts and could not stop the clock. So Gailey, the nice guy, chose the charitable course. Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick would have rammed the ball down Shurmur’s throat.

Gailey needn’t worry about embarrassing Shurmur. The Cleveland coach has already embarrassed the franchise with his 0-3 start and 4-15 record thus far.

Soon-to-be new owner Jimmy Haslam III cannot like what he has seen thus far. It’ll be interesting to see what he does in the next few weeks, especially after the Browns take an 0-5 record into their Oct. 14 game at CBS against Cincinnati.

We didn’t see Haslam after the game, but it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the same look on his face that Richardson wore.

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