Sunday, December 7, 2014

An offensively offensive afternoon

Don’t even think about it. Not for a second. Not for a minute.

There is only one side of the ball to blame for the Browns' extremely disappointing 25-24 loss Sunday to the Indianapolis Colts at the building formerly known as Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Don’t blame the defense. Don't blame the special teams.

No, put this one squarely on the shoulders of an offense that squandered opportunity after opportunity and let the Colts stay in a game they had no business winning and escape with a victory.

In the past, it’s the defense that made mistakes costing the Browns victories. Not this time. The defense played great. Yes, great. The Indianapolis offense was on its heels most of the afternoon.

The Cleveland offense, on the other hand, was pathetic.

How can one say that after Cleveland blew a 21-7 lead midway through the third quarter? Easy. The Browns’ best offense against the Colts was their defense.

Two interceptions, including a pick six by Justin Gilbert; two fumble recoveries, one for a touchdown by Craig Robertson following a strip sack; three sacks; a half dozen knockdowns of Andrew Luck after delivering the ball; and a dozen hurries should not add up to a loss.

Yes, the defense gave up yards less grudgingly in the second half after a terrific first half, during which the Colts gained only 117 of their 362 yards. And yes, it was solid on third down, limiting the visitors to just one conversion in eight attempts in the first 30 minutes.

But it was also gassed by the fourth quarter because the offense couldn’t stay on the field. In the second half, that offense ran 25 plays in seven possessions and produced 63 yards, three first downs (one by penalty), a measly three points and five punts with Brian Hoyer at quarterback. Of the 63 yards, one was a 20-yard completion to Andrew Hawkins.

In the third quarter alone, three possessions yielded a trio of three-and-outs and 12 yards. Only Gilbert’s 21-yard pick-6 that made it 21-7 saved it from being a total disaster.

Of the Browns’ 14 possessions, only one produced as many as 10 plays and that resulted in a missed Billy Cundiff field goal. A nine-play drive turned into the only offensive touchdown of the day, a nine-yard Isaiah Crowell dash capping a 77-yard drive that gave the Browns a 14-7 lead late in the first half.

Much like last week’s loss, the Cleveland offense couldn’t stand prosperity. On the first Indianapolis possession of the second half, Paul Kruger recovered a fumble by Indy wide receiver T. Y. Hilton at the Colts’ 38. Three plays and a false start by Mitchell Schwartz later, Spencer Lanning was in punt formation for one of his nine punts.

Then following a Jim Leonhard interception the Cleveland safety brought back to the Colts' 23 early in the fourth quarter, three plays gained five yards before Cundiff nailed a 39-yard field goal when a touchdown was needed.

And now if Mike Pettine in his heart of hearts honestly believes Hoyer is the quarterback who gives his team the best chance to win on offense, he is officially delusional. His awful quarterbacking is costing the Browns victories.

The head coach last week credited Johnny Manziel with providing a spark in the loss to Buffalo. Well, the Browns desperately needed another spark against the Colts Sunday and Manziel never removed the garment that kept him warm on the sidelines.

What in the world was Pettine waiting for? The Brian Hoyer who really looked like a National Football League quarterback in the first five games of the season? Perhaps the one who was mistake-free in the upset of Cincinnati a few weeks ago?

That guy is long gone. Bad Brian, who heard the dissatisfaction of the fans throughout the second half, kept coming out drive after drive after drive only to fail time after time after time.

This was a game not only could have been won, it should have been won. With any kind of coaching, it would have been won.

And for those who credit the Indianapolis defense for stopping the Cleveland attack (poor choice of words), stop it. It was OK, but c’mon. The Browns have handled better defenses than the Colts’ this season.

Hoyer, as he has done in the past two months, continues to overthrow wide-open receivers. He missed Josh Gordon twice, Taylor Gabriel once and seemed more confused as the game wore on. The offense generated only 14 first downs.

Critics might say Cundiff’s missed field goal from 40 yards midway through the second quarter would have been the margin of victory had it not been wide right. Probably so. But he’s not the reason the Browns lost their second game in a row for the first time this season and fell to 7-6.

Don’t point fingers at the wrong people. With any kind of an offense, Cundiff’s miss would be just a bad memory that had no bearing on the outcome of the game.

The Cleveland defense, even in its tired state, was tough right down to the final yard. Trailing, 24-19, Luck marched his team 95 yards after Barkevious Mingo sacked him at his 4-yard line on the first play of the Colts’ final possession.

The big quarterback converted two third downs with clutch throws to Donte Moncrief and Coby Fleener along the way and was helped immensely by a debatable 35-yard pass interference penalty on Buster Skrine that placed the ball at the Cleveland 25 with two minutes left in regulation.

Luck’s nine-yard scramble on second-and-10 at the Cleveland 12 set up a third-and-11with 68 seconds left and the crowd urging the Cleveland defense for one more big play. A dive play by Boom Herron produced about 18 inches.

After a Colts’ timeout, the Colts called on the former Ohio State running back again and this time, he bounced off one tackler and picked up a couple of yards around the right side.

Pettine then called time, undoubtedly to give his defense a much needed, albeit brief, rest. Luck didn’t waste any time after the timeout, hooking up with Hilton, who beat Cleveland’s Joe Haden to the spot a yard into the end zone for his second score of the day with 36 seconds left.

Held to just one catch for nine yards in the first half by Haden, Hilton schooled Haden and Skrine in the second half with nine catches for 141 yards and the two touchdowns.

Then it was Hoyer’s turn and he didn’t waste any time as he attempted to get his club into position for a Cundiff field-goal attempt to win the game. He tried going deep to Gordon, whom he had missed badly earlier on a deep throw.

This time, the 57-yard bomb barely slipped threw the fingertips of the big wide receiver, who was injured on the play, at the Indianapolis 35. A roughing-the-passer penalty on Colts defensive end Cory Redding moved the ball to the 28, but Hoyer reverted to form, his final pass landing in the arms of Colts cornerback Josh Gordy.

It was an afternoon where the Browns made Luck, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, look ordinary. He was 24-of-53 for 294 yards and the two picks. When you get Luck on an off day, you’ve got to beat him.

The Browns definitely had that chance. All the offense had to do was look ordinary and play mediocre football. It couldn’t even do that.

Bottom line: The Cleveland Browns right now are not who many thought they were as recently as a few weeks ago. 


  1. One minor correction: Brian Hoyer right now is not who many thought he was as recently as a few weeks ago.
    Don't hang his ineptness on the rest of the team.

    1. When I look at the Browns, I look at them as a totality made up of individuals. Yes, Hoyer drags the offense down. Because of that, it drags the whole team down. Thus that conclusion.