Sunday, October 7, 2012

Good news/bad news Browns

First, the good news.

The Browns jumped out to 14-0 and 17-7 leads over the New York Giants in the first 16 minutes of their game Sunday in New Jersey.

Brandon Weeden dropped back to pass 35 times and the vaunted Giants pass rush never touched the Cleveland quarterback. Didn’t even get close to him. The rookie threw for a 291 yards, just shy of the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

There’s more.

Rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon caught two touchdown passes, including a gorgeous 62-yard bomb from Weeden in the first quarter.

Reggie Hodges was not called on to punt until just 25 seconds remained in the first half.

Rookie running back Trent Richardson scored yet another touchdown, giving him five in five games, and continued to show why he eventually will torture opposing defenses when he really understands what the National Football League is all about.

Not one three-and-out for the Cleveland offense until the last minute of the first half.

Sounds like the recipe for a Browns’ victory, right?

Now, the bad news.

Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz was held to just five catches for a paltry 50 yards, but three of them were caught in the end zone with Buster Skrine, Dimitri Patterson and Trevin Wade the victims.

The Giants scored on six straight possessions (four touchdowns and two field goals) and scored 24 points in a row to take a 34-17 lead midway through the third quarter, compiling 360 yards of their 502 total yards in the process.

Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who fumbled on the first play of the game to set up the Browns’ first touchdown, crawled out of coach Tom Coughlin’s doghouse with his best day running since who knows when. He had rushed for just 133 yards in the first three games, but gouged the Browns for 200 yards on 30 carries and tacked on another 29 yards with four receptions.

Add them up and you wind up with a 41-27 Giants victory that was a lot easier than it seems. After the Browns leaped to their 14-0 lead five minutes into the game, the Giants unfortunately woke up.

At the same time, the Cleveland defense took a long snooze while Eli Manning & Co. put on a display of offense that blew to smithereens the notion that Dick Jauron’s young men are growing up in a hurry.

If nothing else, the afternoon proved that when things turn ugly for the Browns, they turn ugly in a hurry. Once the New York offense figured out the only way to win this one was to outscore the Browns, the game turned in the home team’s favor.

It’s hard to figure out how the Browns can plays teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens tough and then look so awful in this one.

One play does not necessarily mean the difference between winning and losing, but one strange call by Browns coach Pat Shurmur in the second quarter provided a head-scratching moment.

Right after the Giants scored their first touchdown of the day to narrow the Cleveland lead to 17-10, the Browns retaliated by smartly marching 55 yards down to Giants’ 25-yard line, mainly on a 38-yard catch and run by Chris Ogbonnaya on a third-and-8 at the Cleveland 27.

Richardson, who picked up nine yards on two carries to bring up a third-and-1 at the New York 25, was summoned to the sidelines for that play. The strong rookie running back had gained 63 yards on 12 carries up to that point and picked up another 22 yards on a flat pass from Weeden.

Rarely did the Giants’ defense shut him down. Many times, it took three, sometimes more, defenders to bring him down. So what the hell was he doing on the bench when all the Browns needed was a yard against a tiring New York defense that had so much trouble tackling him?

Shurmur, and there’s no one else to blame because, after all, he calls all the plays, then emptied his brain of all the smart cells and dialed up a pass.

When your running game is succeeding, when the Giants are back on their heels figuring out how to bring Richardson down, why a pass?

The Giants had to be thrilled, maybe even ecstatic, when they saw Richardson head for the sidelines in favor of Ogbonnaya.

What was Shurmur thinking? Did he think he’d fool the Giants, who no doubt expected a running play? Sometimes, coaches outthink themselves. Count this as one of those times.

A classic case of overthinking the situation and it backfired. Weeden rolled out to his right and then overthrew Gordon on the play. Giants backup safety Stevie Brown picked it off and returned it 46 yards to the Browns’ 40.

So instead of Phil Dawson coming in and kicking roughly a 43-yard field goal to give the Browns a 20-10 lead and sustain their momentum, the Giants took advantage of the miscue and tied the game at 17 two plays later on short run by Bradshaw following a 37-yard strike to Rueben Randle by Manning.

It’s little things like that within the framework of a game that could make a difference. It might not have made a difference for the Browns in the end run in this one. We’ll never know. 

But in this case, it can be looked back on as a turning point because the Giants put it in cruise control after that. They only tied the game at that point, but you could see the tide swinging.

Sure enough, Joshua Cribbs fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the ubiquitous Brown recovered for the Giants at the Cleveland 29. It took Manning just five plays to travel those 29 yards against a stunned Cleveland defense with Cruz racking up the second of his three scores. Two turnovers, two New York TDs.

Whatever momentum the Browns could have built with a 20-10 lead disintegrated in a matter of 2½ minutes as the Giants grabbed their first lead of the game at 24-17 and then proceeded to run away.

“We had a three-minute stretch before the end of the first half that was, ‘Wow, you just can’t do that against a good football team,’ ” said Shurmur after the game. No kidding. How about owning up to some blame.

The Giants’ offense was on the field 11 more minutes than Cleveland’s. The Giants totaled 30 first downs, four of them achieved courtesy of four Cleveland penalties.

So this little good news/bad news story ends with yet another loss, the Browns’ fifth in five games this season (the first time since 1999 they’ve lost the first five games of the season) and the 11th straight over two seasons.

No one expected this season to be easy, but right now, it looks as though the Browns are taking two giant steps backward for everyone they take forward.

Oh, one more piece of good news.

The Browns play three of their next four games at home and the one game on the road is at Indianapolis.

That is good news, isn’t it?

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