Woulda, coulda, didn't
The Browns are the National Football League’s version of The Little Engine that Could. Only one problem. They don’t.
Week in and week out, they chug up that mountain toward a victory – I think I can, I think I can – only to somehow, some way manage to lose. The difference between winning and losing at times can be minuscule. The Browns have proven that far too often.
Losing games the hard way has become somewhat of an art form over the last dozen or so seasons for this franchise. Sunday’s penalty-filled, rollercoaster-ride 23-20 overtime loss to the Cowboys in Dallas, for example, could serve as a microcosm to this season.
Shoot out to a 13-0 halftime lead after battering the Cowboys on both sides of the ball, play soft defense in the second half, especially against the Dallas receivers, and then watch the Cowboys take full advantage and take a 17-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
And when Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer strip-sacked Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden and recovered the fumble at the Cleveland 18 on the next series, fans began blowing Taps for the Browns and reaching for the hammer to drive the nails into the coffin.
But the Browns would not slink away. Instead, they came right back resiliently and strip-sacked Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who was dropped seven times overall, getting the ball back at the Cowboys’ 35 with five minutes left in regulation. Six plays later, they had a first and goal at the 6.
I think I can, I think I can.
Two Trent Richardson bull rushes moved the ball to the 1 and that’s when we found out Richardson has no leaping ability. Instead of kicking him outside, the Browns called for the 5-9, 230-pounder to take it airborne. So did Dallas linebacker Dan Connor, who made a similar launch and stuffed the Browns rookie.
A fourth-down fade for Jordan Cameron was badly overthrown. Terrible throw by Weeden, whose inconsistency all afternoon makes it look as though he’s regressing.
Using all their timeouts and benefitting from some seriously bad play calling by Dallas’ Jason Garrett, who called for three runs against a stacked line of scrimmage, the Browns forced a punt. They received a huge break when Dallas’ John Phillips was called for a horse collar tackle when all he did was yank Joshua Cribbs’ braids.
It took Weeden just one play to hook up with Ben Watson from 17 yards out for their second touchdown of the afternoon with 67 seconds left, giving the Browns a 20-17 lead.
I think I can, I think I can.
That’s a way too much time for someone like Romo. But he had a lot of help from the Cleveland secondary. A borderline helmet-to-helmet penalty on T. J. Ward and 35-yard pass interference penalty on Sheldon Brown produced 50 of the 66 yards needed to allow Dan Bailey to tie game with a 32-yard field goal with six seconds left.
So much for I think I can.
It was only a matter of time before the Cleveland patchwork secondary, working hard but decimated by injury, would be the casual factor for the loss. Romo relentlessly went after it.
A highly questionable incomplete call on a pass to Dez Bryant on the Cowboys’ second possession in overtime allowed Dallas to move into position for the game-winning 38-yard field goal by Bailey with 6:09 left in overtime.
It appeared as though the Dallas wide receiver caught a pass, took two steps and then was stripped of the ball at the Cleveland 25 and was recovered by the Browns. It was ruled incomplete, although replays showed he had possession of the ball. Good teams, it seems, receive more breaks from officials.
Tough loss. Maybe the toughest of the season.
The climb to the top is worth it only if the other side is reached. And there is no question the effort is there every week.
But is it any wonder the players haven’t given up? Absolutely. Losing begets losing, which begets frustration, which begets not really caring anymore.
To their – and the coaching staff’s – credit, the Browns cannot be accused of packing it in, although it would be very easy to do so with nothing more to play for now expect perhaps pride and the love of the game.
But that’s awfully hard to do when you see the fruits of your labor continue to wind up in negative results. In order to know how to win, one has to first win. And that’s the mountain the Browns keep failing to successfully negotiate.
This team plays just well enough to lose. Can’t argue the facts. However, the Cowboys loss sure looks as if the Browns are getting that much closer to the day when all that will change.
Several times, this season, they have had victory within their grasp in the fourth quarter only to see it slip away. They keep finding creative ways to lose games they should win.
This one was just another of those agonizing losses in a game they played well enough to win. When Bailey’s overtime field goal sneaked just inside the right upright halfway through overtime, the Browns had every right to hold their heads high as they left the field.
Yes, it was their club-record 13th straight road loss. And yes, it dropped their season record to 2-8, but they gave the much more talented Cowboys a lot more than they expected.
Losing is always hard to swallow, especially when you play gritty football. And that’s exactly what we got from the Browns in Dallas.
Sometimes, I wonder why the Browns can’t catch a break and get lucky. Why couldn’t Bailey’s attempt for the tying field goal drift wide right? Why, for once, can’t we see a receiver called for pass interference instead of someone in the Cleveland secondary? Poor Buster Skrine, valiantly filling in for the injured Joe Haden, couldn’t keep his hands off Dallas receivers.
This club is not as bad as its record. With better coaching – and we can look forward to that next season unless Joe Banner shocks everyone and retains Pat Shurmur – we wouldn’t be looking at 2-8.
It’s coming. What we saw against the Cowboys just might turn out to be a sneak preview of things to come. Except, of course, the outcome.