Second-half blues strike again
In the National Football League, it is required to play four quarters of good football in order to have a chance at winning the game. One quarter doesn’t cut it.
And that’s exactly what the Browns did Sunday as the Detroit Lions outplayed them in just about every facet of the game for three of those quarters and slapped them with a large dose of reality in the form of a 31-17 home loss.
A lot of the blame for this loss, which snapped a three-game winning streak, will be placed squarely in the lap of Brandon Weeden. But the quarterback had plenty of company. This was, in so many ways, a team loss.
During a 16-minute span that covered the tail end of the first quarter and all of the second, the Browns looked every bit like the better team as they raced out to a 17-7 halftime lead.
Weeden looked sharp – or as sharp as he can possibly be – with a pair of touchdown passes to Chris Ogbonnaya and Greg Little, the play calling was solid (especially the misdirection reverse by Travis Benjamin that gained 45 yards and woke the Browns from their first-quarter lethargy) and the defense muscled up and held the Lions to just 29 yards of total offense (24 on one play).
It was precisely at that point that some optimistic Browns fans said quietly, somewhat hopefully, to themselves, “Maybe, just maybe, this club is better than we thought even with Weeden at quarterback.”
But then the Browns, who have held a halftime lead in every game this season, were forced to play the second half.
And that was the turning point of the game.
It took the Lions a half to figure it out, but then they realized the Cleveland secondary could not keep up with their corps of receivers, a.k.a the Land of the Giants.
So Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw five touchdown passes against the Browns in their last meeting in 2009, started targeting 6-5 Calvin Johnson, 6-6 Kris Durham, 6-5 Brandon Pettigrew and 6-7 Joseph Fauria.
Twenty-eight of 43 passes were thrown at the Gigantic Four as the relatively midget Browns secondary (only one member as tall as 6-0) scrambled to cover them. Fauria, a rookie, caught the only three passes thrown his way. All were in the end zone.
But it was in the trenches where the Lions whaled on the Browns, winning just about every battle in the second half. The offensive line kept Stafford clean almost all afternoon and gouged holes for the running game, compiling 262 of their 366 yards in the second half.
With one exception, the vaunted Cleveland pass rush didn’t get close enough to Stafford to sniff whatever deodorant he used. He had all kinds of time to pick and choose and would have wound up with better numbers had his receivers not dropped at least five passes.
The Cleveland play calling was awful. No, make that atrocious, especially in the final 30 minutes. Norv Turner called for only three runs (two over left guard by Willis McGahee for a total of four yards and an end around by Josh Gordon that gained zero yards) from scrimmage in 30 play calls.
And the Browns were either in the lead or close enough to the lead to not abandon the running game. Putting the game in the hands, arm and head of Weeden calls to question whether Turner has lost his touch as a coordinator.
The offense began the second half with a Jordan Cameron false start on the first play. And then it got worse with three straight three-and-outs and a four-and-out while the Lions scored on three of their first four possessions. It would have been all four except for an end-zone interception by Tashaun Gipson late in the third quarter.
The defense could not stop the Lions, who racked up two-thirds of their yards in the final 30 minutes and were not forced to punt. The Browns’ offense, meanwhile, was held to 130 yards, 72 of them in the final meaningless drive when they were down by 14 points.
For the first time this season, the Cleveland defense looked inept, almost helpless. It did not stop the Lions in the second half except for that interception. There was no pass rush, the tackling was sloppy and Reggie Bush actually looked good doing something he rarely does – run between the tackles.
Stafford picked on inside linebacker Craig Robertson all afternoon in pass coverage with Bush, who touched the ball 22 times and compiled 135 yards of offense and a receiving touchdown, and his large tight ends.
It was as though the Lions came out in the second half, took their game to a whole different level and the Browns, who did not have the talent to keep pace, never matched them.
It was the movable object (the Cleveland defense) against the unstoppable force (the Detroit offense). And when the Browns owned the ball in the second half, it was exactly the opposite. They became the immovable object and the Lions’ defense the stoppable force. They sacked Weeden just twice, but were in his face on virtually every play.
Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley abused guards John Greco and Shawn Lauvao, who seemed to be working in reverse the entire game. And the only receiver who could get open was Gordon, who wound up with seven catches for 126 yards.
Cameron, with the exception of a couple of false starts, was a no-show until garbage time, when he picked up most of his 64 yards.
In the end, it boiled down to this: The Browns played one good quarter and scored 17 points in that quarter. The other three quarters belonged to the Lions in every facet.
Many fans will pin this one on Weeden, who threw two awful interceptions. The last one, when he was trying to chuck the ball out of bounds like a second baseman trying to shovel the ball sideways to the shortstop on a double play, looked like a play you’d see in a sandlot game.
But shouldn’t some credit, even grudgingly, be given the Lions for completing shutting down the Browns? They were clearly the better team. They made the Browns look bad. It wasn’t all Weeden.
With the next two games in Green Bay and Kansas City and a home date with Baltimore rounding out the first half of the schedule, the 3-3 Browns are now at a crossroads.
How they fare against three straight tough teams will determine just how far they have come and how much more they need to improve before they can truly believe they have taken that next step. The road to at least respectability is clearly loaded with significant hurdles.
Based on their performance Sunday against the Lions, the journey ahead looks mighty treacherous for the Browns. They could have made major strides with a victory against the Lions with at least a respectable performance.